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Northern Ireland gay blood donation ban could be lifted says DUP Health Minister Simon Hamilton

Published 11/12/2015

US health officials want new rules on blood donations from gay and bisexual men (AP/Erie Times-News)
US health officials want new rules on blood donations from gay and bisexual men (AP/Erie Times-News)

Health minister Simon Hamilton has said the ban on gay men providing blood donations could be lifted, if a government advisory body rules it as safe.

The appeal court is considering if the current ban is within Stormont's remit or the Westminster health department's.

Mr Hamilton said once the court has ruled, the matter should be resolved "promptly".

He has written to the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) for it to update him on the risks associated with gay men donating blood.

He said: "If such a piece of work affirms emerging evidence that blood safety has been increased in Great Britain, it would be my view that such evidence should be followed and that Northern Ireland should adopt the same policy on blood donations from men who have had sex with men as the rest of the United Kingdom."

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

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 appeal has been taken to try and establish authority in Northern Ireland.

Mr Poots successor, Jim Wells also backed the ban.

Today Mr Hamilton said: "The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal is currently considering appeals from my department and the Department of Health in London against elements of the judgement in the judicial review case JR65 regarding the policy of permanent deferral from blood donation in Northern Ireland by men who have had sex with men (MSM).

"Whilst no policy decision can be taken while the Court is considering whose responsibility it is to decide donor referral policies for Northern Ireland and it will be necessary in due course to take account of the ruling in the Leger case, I believe that the policy should be resolved promptly once responsibility is established.

"At all times, my primary focus, and that of my predecessors, has been to ensure patient safety.

"I have also made it clear that I will be guided in my decisions by the available evidence.

"To that end, I have recently written to the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt MP suggesting that he and I request that SaBTO provide us with the current state of evidence regarding the risks for recipients of blood and to give us their assessment of the levels of risk associated with permanent deferral of MSM, a five-year deferral and a one-year deferral in Northern Ireland.

"I have suggested that this piece of work be done because some time has elapsed since SaBTO considered the report to the Working Group in 2011 and because this work would permit consideration of up to date expert advice as soon as the Court reaches its judgement.

"If such a piece of work affirms emerging evidence that blood safety has been increased in Great Britain, it would be my view that such evidence should be followed and that Northern Ireland should adopt the same policy on blood donations from MSM as the rest of the United Kingdom."

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