Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Gay rights group ‘snubbed’ by Poots over blood donors

Health Minister Edwin Poots

The Health Minister has come under fire for failing to respond to a request for a meeting by a gay rights group to discuss his controversial stance on blood donation.

The Rainbow Project wrote to Edwin Poots on September 8 after he said he had to yet to make a decision on whether to relax regulations stopping gay men donating blood. However, Mr Poots has not yet responded to the letter.

In the interim, the Health minister revealed he will not change the current legislation to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK — despite medical evidence stating the risk of gay men donating blood under certain conditions is minimal.

The organisation has now said it will explore legal options if the minister — who has been accused of homophobia for his stance — continues to impose a ban on gay men in Northern Ireland donating blood.

It is the latest twist in the controversy in which the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) has so far refused to reveal what advice Mr Poots has received from officials in Northern Ireland.

John O’Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project, said: “We are very disappointed the minister has not yet responded to us, even with an acknowledgement letter.

“We are keen to meet with him to discuss the decision.

“Mr Poots will still accept blood from other parts of the UK but will not allow gay men in Northern Ireland to donate blood.

“There are serious questions about the legality of this decision. We are currently considering a number of steps but hope he changes his position.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MEP, Bairbre de Brun has also written to Mr Poots urging him to end the lifelong ban.

She said: “Whilst public health is the absolute priority and the quality of blood donations must be ensured, there must be a clear distinction made between sexual orientation and sexual behaviour.

“Gay or bisexual men who practice safe sex with condoms, have had only one partner their whole life or have tested HIV negative, remain unjustly banned from donating blood.

“Sexually active heterosexuals who may indulge in riskier sexual activities have no such restrictions.”

A DHSSPS spokeswoman said: “The Department of Health has received correspondence from the Rainbow Project which is currently being considered by officials.”

Background

Restrictions stopping gay men in England, Scotland and Wales from donating blood are to be relaxed later this year. The decision to life the lifetime ban follows a review of the current policies around exclusion and deferral from blood donation by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO). The ban will be lifted on November 7.

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