Bloody hell: Britain under pressure to lift gay and bisexual blood ban




As NHS struggles to find new donors, former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas tells Gay Star News why she wants gay and bisexual men to be allowed to give blood

The UK is in need of new blood donors, but they are ignoring one of the largest groups of prospective donors – gay and bisexual men.

With 74% of Gay Star News readers in our poll willing to donate blood if they were allowed to, politicians have renewed calls to lift the ‘outdated’ ban.

In England, Wales and Scotland, gay and bisexual men must be celibate for a year before they are allowed to donate. In Northern Ireland, largely due to the anti-gay marriage DUP, the ban remains indefinitely.

With the number of people donating falling 40% in a decade, it was announced this week, the NHS has started a new campaign to bring in new donors.

But according to some of the UK’s leading campaigners in equality, the solution is obvious.

Caroline Lucas, the former leader of the Green Party, told Gay Star News in a statement that the UK needs an ‘evidence based approach’ on how to deal with the number of donors.

‘That’s why I’ve long called for a review of the evidence on allowing people to donate safe blood in compliance with the Equality Act 2010,’ she said.

‘Crucially, this would also help ensure that men who have sex with men, for example, are not discriminated against when they want to donate blood.’

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant has also recently renewed his call, tabling a question to the Department of Health asking why men who are in clearly stable relationships – civil partnerships or same-sex marriages – are also banned from giving blood.

Both Fabricant and Lucas have previously described the one-year and full time ban as ‘outdated, illogical and unequal’.

Fabricant introduced a Private Member’s Bill last year calling for gay and bisexual men to be allowed to donate.

On introducing the bill, he said: ‘There is no logic to this and it is unnecessarily discriminatory.’

And Peter Black, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Equalities Minister, has also put pressure on the UK government.

‘This ban not only turns away thousands of willing and healthy potential donors, but it also serves to reinforce negative stereotypes about gay and bisexual men,’ he said. ‘The sooner this unfair and discriminatory ban is lifted, the sooner our blood services can benefit from a greater supply of donated blood and more lives can be saved.’

It led to the UK government announcing in January they would consider consulting on whether a 12-month deferral is necessary when it comes to the blood donation for gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships.

Jon Latham, assistant director of donor services at NHS Blood and Transplant, told GSN: ‘Some people ask us why these donation criteria exist and express to us their frustration if this means that they are not eligible to give blood. None of the criteria in place for blood donation are intended to be discriminatory.

‘It is specific sexual behaviors rather than sexuality that increase the risk of virus transmission and drive the criteria. Ensuring donor and patient safety is at the heart of what we do.

‘The processes we follow at our blood donation sessions are in line with blood donor selection criteria set by the Department of Health on the advice of independent experts.’

Terrence Higgins Trust, the HIV and sexual health charity, has agreed the stance can only realisitically be changed when the risks of HIV for gay and bisexual men are reduced to the same level as that of most straight people.

To look at the current blood bans in force around the world, see our list here.

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Minister's vow on gay blood ban

Belfast Telegraph


Simon Hamilton (right) and Edwin Poots (left) have been at the centre of controversy over the issue of blood donations
Simon Hamilton (right) and Edwin Poots (left) have been at the centre of controversy over the issue of blood donations

Northern Ireland’s new health minister has said he will be guided by science and patient safety when deciding whether to lift the ban on blood donations from gay men.

The prohibition was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in 2011 and replaced with rules allowing them to donate a year after their last sexual encounter with another man.

Former DUP health minister Edwin Poots kept the lifetime deferral in operation in Northern Ireland, citing “blood safety” issues.

Current minister Simon Hamilton said: “I will be guided by the science and medical evidence.

“There is an emerging body of evidence…I will monitor that, I will examine it, I will look at it carefully.”

He added: “This is a matter of patient safety. We must have an assurance.”

Mr Poots lost a judicial challenge to his ban and inferred he would not get a fair hearing from a court should he appeal against the decision.

Responsibility rests with the UK Health Secretary and an appeal has been taken to try establish authority in Northern Ireland, Mr Hamilton said.

In 2013 a judge said Stormont’s health minister did not have the power to keep an “irrational” lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland.

The High Court also found that Mr Poots had breached the ministerial code by failing to take the issue before the Stormont Executive.

The ex-minister maintained the ban in Northern Ireland on the basis of ensuring public safety. But a gay man granted anonymity due to his perceived vulnerability launched a judicial review challenge to Mr Poots’ position.

The judge heard claims that the minister had displayed apparent bias that went beyond religious beliefs and into the realms of prejudice.

Sinn Fein Stormont assembly member Caitriona Ruane told Mr Hamilton it was an equality issue.

“I was glad to hear him say, however, that he will be guided by science and medical evidence, which is to be welcomed given the fact that his two predecessors based their stance on faith.

“The minister now needs to stand up and signal his intent to overturn this discriminatory ban.”

Health Minister spends nearly £100k with no benefit for public health – and still he wants to spend more

During Assembly Question Time on Tuesday 17 September, Northern Ireland’s health minister, Edwin Poots MLA defended his use of public funds for the appeal to the Supreme Court over gay adoption and the gay blood ban when asked a question put to him by Chris Lyttle MLA, one of the Alliance Party’s representatives for East Belfast asked the minister:

why he is using scarce public funds for legal cases against blood donation and adoption when his responsibility is to deliver a system that assesses the health and safety of blood donation and decides whether parental placements are in the best interests of a child. (AQT 75/11-15)

Minister defends use of funds

The DUP Minister responded:

Stormont Northern IrelandI was not aware that I went to court with anyone.  However, when someone takes you to court, you have to respond; it would be quite foolish not to do so.  It is very interesting that public money is being used by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which is a publicly funded body, in taking the Government to court, and legal aid is being used.  We await the outcome of one of those cases in the not-too-distant future.  Let us just see what happens.

On the issue of gay adoption, let us be absolutely unequivocal:  I am just after saying that we need to pay attention to the public when they speak.  When the direct rule Minister held a consultation, it revealed that over 95% of the community was opposed to gay adoption.  It strikes me that some Assembly Members would prefer the courts, as opposed to this House, to make decisions.  With respect to the courts, the Assembly is elected to represent the people of Northern Ireland, and it is a crucial part of the democratic process.  We would do well to pay attention to the democratic will, and that is exactly what I am doing.  I have to say that my stance was further strengthened last week when a piece of Queen’s University Belfast research on looked-after children was published by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.  The longitudinal report, started in 2003 and published only last week, found that 99% of children who had been adopted here had stability — 99% of children in adoptive circumstances in Northern Ireland find stability.

That was because — the report included this — of the rigorous assessment process that takes place.  So I make no apologies for not repairing something that is not broken in the first place.

Responding to the supplementary question from Chris Lyttle, Edwin Poots continued:

[It] is a matter for the courts in the decisions that they make and the arguments that are put.  Let me be absolutely clear:  the European Court of Human Rights has found that there is no human right to adopt.  Let us just nail that at the outset.  This is not about adopters; it is about the children.

In Northern Ireland, we are in a different circumstance from the rest of the United Kingdom, in that we do not have as many children on the waiting list for adoption as is the case in England, Scotland and Wales.  Northern Ireland has a very robust adoption system, and I would have brought and am prepared to bring adoption legislation to the House to upgrade and improve it.  However, because others decided to rush to court, that has been delayed.  That is damaging to democracy, and I would have thought that Mr Lyttle should be a defender of democracy instead of trying to do down democracy.  He may wish to do things through the courts; I would rather do things through the ballot box.

I don’t believe for one second that Chris Lyttle is not a defender of democracy, but the Minister seems to fail to understand that Northern Ireland is subject to laws that do not originate here. Although we have devolution from the Westminster Parliament, this does not give Northern Ireland ministers the right to ignore what the courts say.

Nearly £100k spent already

money20sAs for the costs, Green Party MLA, Steven Agnew has been told by the Minister that he has spent around £40k on defence of the ban on gay men donating blood and around £40k defending the case on adoption by civil partners, with £17k in addition appealing the decision by the High Court. Steven Agnew said,

The Minister’s stance, despite the weight of evidence against him, has generated considerable expense to the public purse with zero benefit to public health in Northern Ireland.

Thanks to Steven and Chris for their work on this

I must thank both Chris Lyttle and Steven Agnew for their work raising this issue in the Assembly. Exposing what the Executive is doing with public money especially when financial budgets are tighter than many would like is one role that our MLAs are very good at doing. Many thanks to both of you, keep up the good work!