Ban on Northern and British blood donations to be reviewed

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar requests review of rules

Rules preventing many people who spent time in Northern Ireland or Britain between 1980 and 1996 from giving blood will be reviewed at the request of Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

The ban applies to those who were in the United Kingdom for a cumulative period of a year during the 16-year epidemic of BSE in cattle – whether they were working, at college or on a number of holidays.

“The issue of former UK residents donating blood in Ireland will be one of the issues considered in the process of reviewing blood donation policy,” Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said.

“To this end, the Minister has written to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) asking it to establish this review and report to him within six months of its commencement.”


The rules affect many Northerners resident in the Republic and any Irish person who spent at least 365 days in England, Scotland, Wales, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man during the relevant period.


According to the IBTS, the cumulative time spent in the UK can include “brief trips, weekend visits, attending college, holidays, work or periods of residence”. The human form of BSE is vCJD. It is thought to be contracted by eating bovine meat products infected with an abnormal prion protein.

It is thought BSE occurred in cattle that were fed meat and bone meal from other animals.

The risk of contracting vCJD through travelling and living in the UK in this period is considered to be low. However, people who fall into this category have been excluded from donating since November 2004.

The first cases of BSE in cattle in the UK were reported in 1986. Scientists believe the incubation period for the disease in cattle is about five years, so BSE most likely first appeared in cattle around 1980.

The UK introduced a ban on feeding meat and bone meal to cattle in 1988, and subsequently introduced a series of measures to reduce the risk of humans being exposed to infection.

People who have had certain operations in the UK since January 1st, 1980 are also excluded from donating. These include neurosurgery, eye surgery and laser eye treatment.

From October 2006, people who had root canal treatment in the UK since January 1st, 1980 were excluded from donating unless their dentist had used only single use disposable files and reamers.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times