Facts don’t back gay blood ban

Men who have sex with men (MSN) are still banned from donating blood in Northern Ireland.

While I am cautiously optimistic that the courts will rule that blood donation be brought into line with the rest of the UK, it is unfortunate that once again, campaigners are having to resort to court action to bring about change.

In England, Scotland and Wales the lifetime ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) donating blood was relaxed in November 2011 to a one year deferral after abstaining from sexual activity with another man.

This was in line with the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) which advises UK ministers and health departments on the most appropriate ways to ensure the safety of blood, cells, tissues and organs for transfusion/translation.

It’s an expert, independent advisory group set up specifically to advise on these decisions. No brainer, as they say. Unfortunately not.

The first DUP Health Minister, Edwin Poots, choose to maintain the lifetime ban citing safety concerns, despite importing blood from England, Scotland and Wales. He claimed to have evidence, which he wouldn’t publish, and which we eventually discovered didn’t exist. A judge ruled that he had acted ‘irrationally’ and that his decisions were ‘infected with bias’. Ouch.

He now graces the DUP backbenches alongside his short term replacement, former Minister Wells. Mr Wells resigned on the back of controversial comments about the LGBTQ community, made at a Westminster election hustings.

Now we have the third DUP Health Minister Simon Hamilton. He says he will follow the evidence, apparently distancing himself from his predecessors while he awaits the outcome of another court appeal in this wasteful debacle. Through Assembly questions I have gleaned that to date this case has cost tens of thousands of pounds, although Minister Hamilton did attempt to keep costs down by trying to remove the challenger’s legal aid.

The Minister must end this waste now and lift the lifetime ban as soon as possible, while committing to follow further evidence in reviewing the one year deferral.

He has a choice; evidence based policy or policy motivated by prejudice.

This blog was published by the Belfast Telegraph on 24 December 2015

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