Following the revelation that Northern Ireland has taken blood from England, Scotland and Wales, every month since the life time ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood was lifted there, The Rainbow Project have said that the Ministers position on this issue is no longer tenable.
Back in September 2011 Minister Poots stated that he was not lifting the blanket ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in Northern Ireland, to then change his position in November 2011 to say that he is still considering the issue. To date the Minister has still not come to a decision.
John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project(1) said, ‘When The Rainbow Project presented evidence to the Health Committee we pressed members on the need for the Minister to make a decision. Experts have said that there is no significant safety risk to removing the lifetime ban and replacing it with a 12 month deferral period. As the Minister has not yet made a decision, Northern Ireland is now out of line with the rest of the UK. This is particularly ridiculous when you see Northern Ireland accepting blood from other parts of the UK which could have been donated by gay and bisexual men’.
At the same Committee meeting, Minister Poots stated (2), “we are perhaps not under as much pressure as other parts of the UK, so we do not need to rush into anything….. Northern Ireland is largely self-sufficient in blood. It is exceptional for us to receive blood from outside sources”.
‘The Minster says that he has taken advice and his current position is based on ‘safety grounds’, if that is the case, he needs to be fully transparent and share that advice and show the public how that differs from the expert advice of SaBTO(3). The situation we now have is one where gay and bisexual men in Northern Ireland can’t donate blood for use in Northern Ireland, but gay and bisexual men in the rest of the UK can. When you consider that Northern Ireland has lower rates of HIV than any other part of the UK, it is ridiculous to say that this decision, or lack of decision, has been made on the basis of ‘safety grounds’. The Health Minister needs to accept and publically acknowledge that we have amongst the safest blood screening processes in the world and that there is no significant risk to anyone by lifting the ban in Northern Ireland. His current position is not transparent, not rational and not tenable.’
1) The Rainbow Project is Northern Ireland’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGB&T) organisation; rights based, holistic and non-partisan. They provide services for LGB&T individuals including information and support, education and training, counselling, personal development courses, health promotion, advocacy, training, policy development as well as lobby at political and official level.
2) From the Hansard of the DHSSPS Committee meeting (26/10/11) the Minister said
“we are perhaps not as under as much pressure as other parts of the UK, so we do not need to rush into anything….. Northern Ireland is largely self sufficient in blood. It is exceptional for us to receive blood from outside sources”
3) SaBTO is the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs. They recommended the removal of the lifetime ban on donating blood for men who have sex with men to be replaced with a one year deferral period. England, Scotland and Wales accepted the recommendations and removed the blanket ban. http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_129796?ssSourceSiteId=ab
4) For further information, please contact John O’Doherty at 02890 319030