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Gay blood ban: New health minister Simon Hamilton vows to be 'guided by science'

By Michael McHugh

Published 18/05/2015

Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton

Northern Ireland's new health minister has said he will be guided by science and patient safety when deciding whether to lift the ban on blood donations from gay men.

The prohibition was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in 2011 and replaced with rules allowing them to donate a year after their last sexual encounter with another man.

Former DUP health minister Edwin Poots kept the lifetime deferral in operation in Northern Ireland, citing "blood safety" issues.

Current minister Simon Hamilton said: "I will be guided by the science and medical evidence.

"There is an emerging body of evidence...I will monitor that, I will examine it, I will look at it carefully."

He added: "This is a matter of patient safety. We must have an assurance."

Mr Poots lost a judicial challenge to his ban and inferred he would not get a fair hearing from a court should he appeal against the decision.

Responsibility rests with the UK Health Secretary and an appeal has been taken to try establish authority in Northern Ireland, Mr Hamilton said.

In 2013 a judge said Stormont's health minister did not have the power to keep an "irrational" lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland.

The High Court also found that Mr Poots had breached the ministerial code by failing to take the issue before the Stormont Executive.

The ex-minister maintained the ban in Northern Ireland on the basis of ensuring public safety.

But a gay man granted anonymity due to his perceived vulnerability launched a judicial review challenge to Mr Poots' position.

The judge heard claims that the minister had displayed apparent bias that went beyond religious beliefs and into the realms of prejudice.

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