NI ban on gay men donating blood will lift as of September 1st

Executive agrees with removal so decision now unlikely to be challenged by DUP

John O’Doherty from the Rainbow Project with the North’s Minister for Health Michelle O’Neill: “My first responsibility is patient safety.” Photograph: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

John O’Doherty from the Rainbow Project with the North’s Minister for Health Michelle O’Neill: “My first responsibility is patient safety.” Photograph: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

 

The lifetime ban on gay men donating blood in Northern Ireland is to be lifted from September 1st, the North’s new Sinn Féin Minister for Health Michelle O’Neill has announced.

On a visit to the LGBT advocacy group, the Rainbow Project, in central Belfast, Ms O’Neill said she would introduce legislation to rescind the ban.

The move had been introduced as a result of the 1980s Aids crisis. It was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in 2011.

In these countries new rules were introduced that allowed gay men who had not had sex with another man for a year or more to make blood donations. The same system will apply in Northern Ireland.

The ban was maintained by successive DUP health ministers. The department said Ms O’Neill’s Executive colleagues had agreed to her decision, indicating the DUP would not challenge the removal of the ban.

New evidence

“My first responsibility in this matter is patient safety,” said Ms O’Neill.

“Evidence from across the UK has provided assurance that the risk is lower with a one-year deferral. My decision is based solely on the evidence regarding the safety of donated blood.”

The minister said it was vital that gay blood donors comply with the rule that to give blood they must not have had sex with another man for a year or more.

“The safety of donated blood depends on two things: donor selection and the testing of blood.

“Every blood donation is tested for HIV and a number of other organisms. Not even the most advanced tests are 100 per cent reliable, so it is vitally important for every donor to comply with any deferral rules that apply to them,” she said.

“I will instruct the NI Blood Transfusion Service accordingly. To allow NIBTS adequate preparation time, the new policy will come into effect on September 1st, 2016.”

In March this year former DUP Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots succeeded in an attempt to overturn rulings that his ban on gay men giving blood was irrational and infected by apparent bias.

Christian beliefs

Subsequently a gay man, who was granted anonymity, sought to challenge the ban at the UK supreme court.

Ms O’Neill’s decision may now mean there will be no reason for this challenge to proceed.

The Rainbow Project said it had been “campaigning on this issue for over a decade and it is fantastic to finally see this unnecessary ban removed”.

SDLP health spokesman Mark Durkan welcomed the decision and said that previously a “ludicrous” situation existed where “people in the North were receiving blood from England, Wales and Scotland where there was no such ban” while gay men could not donate blood in Northern Ireland.