Change to blood donation rules in Northern Ireland welcomed

A change to blood donation rules in Northern Ireland has been welcomed.

Health Minister Robin Swann announced that a 12-month deferral period, which primarily affects sexually active gay men, has been reduced to three months.

The change to the rules brings the region in line with the rest of the UK and will come into effect on June 1 2020.

Mr Swann said he is confident that the decision will allow more people to donate while maintaining the safety of blood.

“Current blood donation rules prevent people who engage in some sexual behaviours from giving blood for a 12-month period,” he said.

“Having considered the expert advice and evidence provided by the Committee for the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs, the deferral period for these people will now be reduced to three months.

“The safety of donated blood depends on two things: donor selection and the testing of blood. Every blood donation is tested for HIV and a number of other organisms. Not even the most advanced tests are 100% reliable, so it is vitally important for every donor to comply with any deferral rules that apply to them.

“I have instructed the NI Blood Transfusion Service accordingly. To allow adequate preparation time the new policy will come into effect on 1 June 2020.”

John O’Doherty, director of LGBT organisation The Rainbow Project, welcomed the move, which follows the overturning of a lifetime ban for gay men to a one-year deferral period in Northern Ireland in 2016.

He said: “It is nine years since The Rainbow Project gave evidence to the Stormont Health Committee outlining the irrationality of the lifetime blood ban for gay and bisexual men. This demonstrates the challenge our community has faced in removing anti-LGBT bias from our laws and practices.

“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.

“No longer can LGBT people in Northern Ireland be expected to endure lesser treatment than our counterparts in other regions.”

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said the change removes the “effective discrimination against gay men”.

“The original ban and then the differential arrangements from the rest of the UK on the donation of blood by gay men constituted blatant discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and brought shame on Northern Ireland. It is welcome this discrimination will now be removed,” she said.

“This is good news for the health service because the alignment of blood donation arrangements will make management of donation simpler, and in particular it is good news for the LGBT community and society as a whole, as we send a clear message discrimination against them will not be tolerated.”

SDLP councillor Pete Byrne also welcomed the change to the rules.

“The minister’s decision to reduce the delay to three months means that more people will be able to donate to our depleted blood supplies, while maintaining high standards,” he said.

“This is personally welcome news for me. As someone who was prohibited from donating blood before I reached my 10 donation milestone, I am looking forward to finally being able to make that contribution.”