Evidence will be my guide on gay blood ban: minister

Health Minister Simon Hamilton
Health Minister Simon Hamilton

My department and the Department of Health in London have been appealing elements of a ruling in a case regarding the policy of permanent deferral from blood donation in Northern Ireland for men who have sex with men (MSM).

My department and the Department of Health in London have been appealing elements of a ruling in a case regarding the policy of permanent deferral from blood donation in Northern Ireland for men who have sex with men (MSM).

The rest of the UK moved to a position of a one year deferral in 2011, the first country in Europe to remove the lifetime deferral specifically for MSM.

Much of the rest of the world continued a lifetime deferral at that point, though in more recent times countries such as the Irish Republic, France, and the United States have been reconsidering their position.

At all times, my primary focus, and that of my predecessors, has been to ensure patient safety. I have also made it clear that I will be guided in my decisions by the available evidence.

Part of the focus of our appeal is establishing clearly who has responsibility for a decision in this policy area.

While no decision on the policy can be taken while the Court of Appeal considers the issue, it is my opinion that either the Secretary of State for Health or I should endeavour to be in a position to take an early decision once the court has come to its view, and that decision should be based upon clear and up-to-date scientific evidence.

With that in mind, I recently wrote to Jeremy Hunt suggesting that he and I ask the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) to undertake a piece of work which would provide us with the current state of evidence regarding the risks for recipients of blood and to give us their assessment of the levels of risk associated with permanent deferral of MSM, a five-year deferral, and a one-year deferral in Northern Ireland.

I firmly believe that 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 MSM as the rest of the United Kingdom.

Should the latest scientific evidence indicate that safety has increased, coupled with improvements in testing for HIV, hepatitis and other transfusion transmitted infections, I think it would be only right and proper for Northern Ireland to follow suit.

I have been a consistent advocate of doing what is right to ensure patient safety.

On this or any other issue, I will be guided to the right decision by the evidence that our health professionals and scientists provide. In that way, we can ensure that patient safety is maximised.

. Simon Hamilton is the DUP health minister

For reaction to and details about Mr Hamilton’s plans and the current status of blood donations in Northern Ireland, see this link.