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Gay blood donation: Thirty men turned down over sex ban

 

 

 

 

Whole Blood

The NIBTS has stopped 30 men from donating blood at their clinics since 2011 after they said they had sexual contact with other men

 

Thirty men have been stopped from donating blood at clinics in Northern Ireland because they have had sexual contact with another man, a BBC investigation has found.

Elsewhere in the UK, there is a one-year deferral period for men who have had sex with men (MSM) to donate.

Northern Ireland has an outright ban.

But a judge ruled that former health minister Edwin Poots did not have the power to retain that ban. His ruling will be appealed in court later.

In the Northern Ireland Appeal Court on Monday, the current on-off health minister, the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Simon Hamilton, is appealing the judgement, alongside Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

They shall be asking who is in charge of blood policy and whether or not this is a devolved issue. The appeal is expected to last four days.

Screened

Following a Freedom of Information request, BBC News NI has seen emails sent between Northern Ireland’s Department of Health and the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS), which is responsible for the collection, testing and distribution of blood.

The NIBTS also said it had stopped 30 men from donating blood at their clinics since 2011 after they informed staff that they had sexual contact with other men.

The BBC asked the NIBTS how confident it would be that its blood is screened correctly and that it would be safe for MSM to donate after the one-year deferral period.

It said: “All blood donations are subjected to the testing regimes required by the Blood Safety and Quality Regulations 2005.

“As such, NIBTS is confident that all blood samples are screened correctly.”

Direction

The BBC has also seen instructions sent to the NIBTS from Dr Elizabeth Mitchell, the deputy chief medical officer, instructing the organisation how to respond if approached by the media about the ban remaining in place.

Dr Kieran Morris, the former chief executive of the NIBTS, replied showing some concern about the process and how he would answer questions from his own staff.

“As chief executive officer and accountable officer for the NIBTS special agency service, I require from the Department of Health a written direction, giving me a clear line as to how we manage and control the situation,” he said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that referring all matters to the Department of Health press office will not be sustainable for more than a few days.”

Edwin PootsImage copyrightPAcemaker
Image captionEdwin Poots, the former health minister, said he kept the ban on the basis of ensuring public safety

A BBC investigation earlier this year found the Department of Health does not have any medical evidence of its own to support a permanent ban on gay men donating blood.

The ban was put in place across the UK during the Aids crisis of the 1980s, but was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011.

Irrational

New rules were introduced that allowed blood donations from men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year earlier.

But Northern Ireland did not follow suit.

A gay man, granted anonymity due to his perceived vulnerability, launched a judicial review challenge over then health minister Edwin Poots’s decision not to adopt the same policy on this side of the Irish Sea.

A judge ruled that Mr Poots’ decision was “irrational” and “infected with apparent bias”.

Mr Poots said he had kept the ban on the basis of ensuring public safety.

In April, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that a lifetime ban may be justified in member states if no effective detection techniques exist within the country.

Devolved

The ECJ said countries must establish if such donors were at high risk of acquiring infectious diseases like HIV.

Mr Hamilton said he would study the ruling.

A number of issues will be looked at in the Court of Appeal, including whether blood policy should be a devolved matter.

The appeal is expected to last for four days.

The NIBTS did not respond to the BBC to give an additional comment.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “It would not be appropriate at this stage to comment on matters that are before the courts.”

Here’s a way for gay men to help save lives, even if you’re banned from giving blood

Reprinted from Pink News – 

 

Young gay men who remain banned from giving blood have been urged to sign up to the bone marrow register instead.

In England, Scotland and Wales at present, men who have sex with men (MSM) are banned from giving blood from 12 months from last sexual activity. In Northern Ireland, men who have sex with men are permanently banned from giving blood.

However, the regulations do not mean there is no way for MSM to make a difference – as they are still able to register to donate stem cells and bone marrow.

Bone marrow donor Stuart Brooks has urged more gay men to sign upStuart Brooks, a 25 year old trainee lawyer from London, has opened up about his experience of donating bone marrow – and urged other gay men to do so.

He said: “While at university I found out that donating blood simply wasn’t open to gay men who were sexually active.

“But when [bone marrow charity] Anthony Nolan visited my university they quickly established that my sexuality would not bar me from saving a life – it was like a breath of fresh air.”

Seven years after joining the register, he was found to be a match for someone in need of a transplant – and opted to go ahead with the procedure.

He continued: “Suddenly I was confronted with the fact that there was another person out there who had a specific need for my stem cells. Only then did it become real – it’s not just this abstract thing.

“I decided to donate in the less common method – a short surgical procedure – because it was best for my specific match.

“The vast majority of people donate stem cells through their blood now, instead of giving actual bone marrow like I did.

“But despite the myths, the procedure was painless – in fact, the most discomfort I felt was removing the medical tape from my arms!”

He added: “After I donated my bone marrow, word spread among my friends, and I was stunned by the response from my peers. I found that lots of gay men assumed they couldn’t donate due to their sexuality.

“This is wrong and since young men make the best donors, it felt like a terrible waste.

“I felt compelled to spread the message; we need more young gay role models to sign up to the Anthony Nolan register and save lives.

“If the gay community can get behind this, we can have a really positive impact and drastically increase the number of people who are cured of blood cancer.

“Many gay men strive to provide role models for our community, so wouldn’t it be awesome if we could become known as a group of selfless superheroes that has vitally improved the prospects of those living with blood cancer?”

Ann O’Leary of Anthony Nolan said: “Sadly many gay men assume they can’t donate stem cells but this just isn’t the case.

“We urgently need more young men to join our register, as they are most likely to be asked to donate yet make up just 15% of the register.

“The more young men like Stuart sign up, the more lives we can save. It’s so easy to sign up to the register, all you have to do is fill out a simple form and spit in a tube.

“If you are a match for someone donating isn’t painful, 90% of the time it’s just like an extended blood donation.”

You can join the bone marrow register online here.

The government ruled out relaxing the rules on MSM blood donation last yearthough Tory MP Michael Fabricant submitted a backbench bill calling for a change.

Gay men in Canada were allowed to give blood for one day last year – with the blood used for research purposes instead of transfusions.