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Blood donor rules for gay and bisexual men relaxed in Northern Ireland

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Health Minister Robin Swann

A decision by Health Minister Robin Swann to relax blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men in Northern Ireland has been broadly welcomed.

It means men will soon be able to donate blood three months after their last sexual activity instead of the previous policy of waiting for a year.

The change will take effect from June 1, bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, which adopted the three-month limit in 2017.

Previously, a lifetime ban was introduced in the UK in the 1980s but was changed to a 12-month wait in Great Britain in 2011 and in Northern Ireland five years later.

Groups including The Rainbow Project and Northern Ireland's only dedicated HIV charity Positive Life backed the decision.

The Health Minister said his decision was based on "evidence regarding the safety of donated blood".

"Any one of us may require a blood transfusion in the future and we need to be confident the blood we receive is safe," he said.

A small action such as this helps to communicate that HIV is no longer the life limiting condition that it was once portrayed Jacquie Richardson, chief executive of Positive Life

"It is of utmost importance to me that we maintain the safety of blood and I'm confident that the new policy will do that."

Jacquie Richardson, chief executive of Positive Life, said the Health Minister deserved praise for "chipping away at the stigma" associated with HIV.

"We have come a significant way from the lifetime ban in the 1980s," she said. "A small action such as this helps to communicate that HIV is no longer the life limiting condition that it was once portrayed."

The Rainbow Project said the move comes after almost a decade of campaigning.

"This demonstrates the challenge our community has faced in removing anti-LGBT bias from our laws and practices," director John O'Doherty said.

The 12-month delay on blood from primarily gay men was discriminatory, rooted in homophobia and opposed to medical evidence SDLP councillor Pete Byrne

"It is disappointing that so much public money was wasted defending the indefensible but we now expect Northern Ireland to keep pace with the other jurisdictions of the UK with regard to blood donations.

The Blood Transfusion Service and Unison union both said the safety of the donation process remains their utmost priority.

SDLP councillor Pete Byrne said the replacement of the rule was long overdue.

"The 12-month delay on blood from primarily gay men was discriminatory, rooted in homophobia and opposed to medical evidence," he said.

"As someone prohibited from donating blood before I reached my 10 donation milestone, I am looking forward to being able to make that contribution."

Belfast Telegraph