Belfast Telegraph

Minister: I won't be rushed on gay blood donors ban

By Anne Madden

Health minister Edwin Poots said he will not be "rushed, pushed or harassed" into lifting the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood in Northern Ireland.

The DUP minister (pictured) was quizzed by the Stormont Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety yesterday on why Northern Ireland has retained the ban while the rest of the UK has changed the restriction to a one-year deferral.

Following a report by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) earlier this year, health ministers for England, Scotland and Wales have decided to change the restrictions on men who have sex with men giving blood.

From November, men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year ago can donate blood.

Representatives from the Rainbow Project, a support organisation for gay men, addressed the Stormont committee yesterday and asked for the one-year deferral to be extended to Northern Ireland. The organisation said it may seek a judicial review of the minister's decision.

"We are unclear how the minister arrived at a different position from his counterparts in other parts of the UK," said John O'Doherty, from the Rainbow Project. "We need to know what medical advice he has received."

Matthew McDermott, from the Rainbow Project, rejected the minister's argument that his decision is based on grounds of public safety.

"He (Poots) has said he will take blood from England, Scotland and Wales," he said. "If he is concerned about safety he would have to apply the ban to blood supplies from the rest of the UK."

However, Mr Poots insisted he has not yet made a decision and has been seeking advice from medical experts, legal advisers and will be consulting with the Irish Republic's health minister where the lifetime ban remains.

"I'm not apologising for taking a precautionary approach," Mr Poots said. "Ultimately my responsibility is the safety of the public ...I'm not going to be rushed, pushed or harassed."

The health committee heard how Northern Ireland is largely self-sufficient in terms of blood donations and that just a small amount, less than 100 units a year is imported from Britain.

Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Fein chair of the committee, asked the minister to share any medical advice he receives with the committee.

A lifetime ban on men who have sex with men giving blood was introduced in the 1980s as a result of the spread of HIV. England, Scotland and Wales have decided to lift the ban and implement a one-year deferral on donations from gay men. The DUP health minister Edwin Poots has been criticised over his decision to keep the prohibition on homosexuals.

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