NI: Lifetime blood ban for men who have sex with men to be lifted
Northern Ireland’s lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men (MSM) will be lifted in September, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced.
The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to her application to replace the lifetime ban with a one-year deferral, bringing Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.
A lifetime ban was in place in England, Wales and Scotland until November 2011.
Ms O’Neill announced the move while meeting with LGBT charity The Rainbow Project at the Belfast LGBT Centre.
The policy change follows the Court of Appeal’s ruling in March which confirmed the Health Minister is the correct person to make a decision on the appropriate deferral period from giving blood for MSM.
A month later, the European Court of Justice, ruling in a similar French case, said a ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men may be justified in certain circumstances.
The Department of Health has claimed “substantial” new evidence shows the risk of contracting HIV from donated blood is lower with a one-year deferral than with a lifetime ban.
Ms O’Neill said: “My first responsibility in this matter is patient safety. 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.”
She added: “I will instruct the NI Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) accordingly. To allow NIBTS adequate preparation time, the new policy will come into effect on 1st September 2016.”
John O’Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project, said: “The Rainbow Project has been campaigning on this issue for over a decade and it is fantastic to finally see this unnecessary ban removed.
“We are particularly gratified that Minister O’Neill made this announcement only eight days after being appointed, demonstrating her commitment to prioritising issues affecting LGB&T people in Northern Ireland. We hope to continue our positive engagements with Minister O’Neill over the coming months and years.”
Steven Agnew, leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, said: “That the new policy is to come into effect so quickly, on 1 September, is to be commended.
“It is wrong that it has taken years of campaigning and around £50,000 of public money has been wasted in opposing this change by previous ministers.”