Northern Ireland

NI gay blood ban?

A judge is due to rule if London or Stormont has the power to retain Northern Ireland's lifetime ban on gay men donating blood.

It should be lifted if a government advisory group says it is safe, the health minister says.

Simon Hamilton's position is at odds with his two predecessors in the office, Edwin Poots and Jim Wells.

They said the ban should be kept in place on the basis of ensuring patient safety.

Appeal judges are currently considering whether blood donation is a devolved matter.

The court is also debating whether or not a decision should be made by the UK Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Former health minister Edwin Poots said the ban should be kept in place for public safety

It follows a court ruling in October 2013 when a judge described Mr Poots' decision to keep the ban in place as "irrational" and said it was a matter for the Westminster health secretary.

A lifetime ban came into force across the UK during the 1980s AIDS crisis, but was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011 following recommendations from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

It was replaced by new rules allowing blood from men who have had no sexual contact with another man for at least 12 months.

Image caption The ban, put in place during the 1980s AIDS threat, was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011.

But it emerged earlier this year that the Department of Health had no medical evidence to support a permanent ban.

In answer to a written question published on Friday, Mr Hamilton said he believes the issue should be resolved promptly once the judges reach their verdict.

He says he has written to Jeremy Hunt MP requesting that SaBTO provide "the current state of evidence regarding the risks for recipients of blood", in particular the level of risk associated with "permanent deferral, five year deferral and a one year deferral."

The minister concluded: "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 men who have sex with men (MSM) as the rest of the United Kingdom".

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