National AIDS Trust says Northern Ireland should match rest of UK on blood donation rules

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The National AIDS Trust has urged Northern Ireland’s government to accept Belfast High Court’s ruling against maintaining a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

NAT Chief Executive Deborah Jack said: “NAT hopes that following this judgment, Northern Ireland will end its lifetime ban and will also adopt the 12-month deferral rule used in the rest of the UK, which is based on current scientific evidence about real risk of HIV and Hepatitis B transmission. It is great to see that decisions based on prejudice – not evidence – are being successfully challenged.”

But in a sign the issue remains unresolved, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has today said that last week’s court decision to rule against Health Minister Edwin Poots’ continued enforcement of the policy will be subjected to an appeal.

In his ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Treacy found that Mr Poots acted beyond his capacity.

The UK Department of Health, headed by Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, will now have to issue a decision for Northern Ireland.

Outside of the central issue of equality for gay and bisexual men – Mr Robinson believes the legal battle underpins the question of Northern Ireland’s self-autonomy in a post-devolution era.

In 2011, England, Wales and Scotland introduced a one-year deferral for gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood under the advice from SaBTO, the UK Government’s Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs Advisory Committee.

They can donate – providing they refrain from having sex with men for 12 months.

The one-year deferral was chosen in part because of Hepatitis B, which disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men.

While there is a four-week window between transmission and detection of HIV, Hepatitis B can take up to a year to be cleared by the body.

But Mr Poots decided to keep the lifetime ban for Northern Ireland – against SaBTO’s guidelines.