Belfast Telegraph

Edwin Poots urged to lift restriction on gay men giving blood

By Lisa Smyth

A gay rights organisation in Northern Ireland has written to the Health Minister to urge him to overturn a lifetime ban on gay men giving blood.

Restrictions stopping gay men in England, Scotland and Wales from donating blood are to be relaxed later this year - but DUP minister Edwin Poots has yet to make a decision on the matter.

A lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have had same sex relations was put in place in the UK in the 1980s as a response to the spread of Aids and HIV.

But following a review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, men who have not had homosexual sex for a year can donate if they meet criteria. The recommendation has been accepted by health ministers in England, Scotland and Wales, and the ban will be lifted on November 7.

The Rainbow Project, which promotes the health and well-being of gay and bisexual men in Northern Ireland, has written to Mr Poots asking for a meeting.

Director John O'Doherty said he is disappointed Stormont has not addressed the ban - which stops thousands of gay people from helping to save lives.

He said: "We welcome the move by the Government to change the rules, but they don't go far enough as there is no recognition for couples in long-term relationships.

"We would like there to be a risk assessment for all people, not just men who have had sex with men.

"We hope any personal opinion of the minister will not come into his decision as there is clear scientific evidence justifying why this ban should be lifted."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said Mr Poots is considering whether the lifetime deferral should be changed to bring Northern Ireland in line with Britain.

Background

Under new regulations in Britain, men who have had sex with another man in the past 12 months will still not be eligible to donate blood. But changes mean the criteria for gay men will match other groups who cannot give blood for 12 months due to infection risks, such as those who have had sex with anyone who has injected themselves with drugs.

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