Simon Hamilton hints ban on gay men donating blood could be lifted
Northern Ireland's lifetime ban on gay men donating blood could be lifted, the health minister has said.
The prohibition was removed 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.
However successive Stormont health ministers have retained the life-long deferral citing "blood safety" issues.
The Court of Appeal is currently considering if blood donation is a devolved matter or whether responsibility lies with UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Current minister Simon Hamilton, who previously indicated he would be guided by science and medical evidence, said the contentious issue should be resolved "promptly" after the judges make their ruling.
In response to a written question, published on Friday, the DUP MLA said he had written to Mr Hunt suggesting that SaBTO, an advisory committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs provide a new report on the current level of risk associated with a permanent deferral, a five-year deferral and a one-year deferral.
Mr Hamilton said: "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 judgment.
"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 (men who have had sex with men) as the rest of the United Kingdom."
In 2013 a judge said Northern Ireland's former health minister Edwin Poots 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, also a DUP MLA, 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.
The Rainbow Project, an advocacy and support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, has welcomed the development but said more needs to be done.
Director John O'Doherty said: "We welcome that Minister Hamilton is breaking from his predecessors.
"However, the inister has not yet stated that the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men should be lifted. We urge the inister to clarify his position in this regard. All available evidence shows that moving from a lifetime ban to a one year deferral has not had a detrimental impact on the security of blood transfusions in the UK."
Sinn Fein MLA Caitriona Ruane described the ban on blood donation by gay men as nonsensical.
She said: "It is unacceptable that in 2015 men who have sex with men are banned from donating blood. It simply doesn't make sense as the health minister in London has already lifted the lifetime ban.
"It is encouraging that the health minister is now indicating that the unfair and discriminatory ban could now be lifted.
"We now need to see Simon Hamilton break from the policies of his predecessors and take action on this to end this unfair lifetime ban."