Doctor says NI Health Minister listening to the ‘wrong people’ on blood policy

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A top doctor believes Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots has been listening to the “wrong people” over his support of a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Jim Dornan, a leading obstetrician, said: “If he comes out and says ‘I just decided that myself’ (the gay blood policy) then that would be wrong and I would say he’s incorrect.

“But I don’t believe he did. I believe that within his group around him he had people that told him it was wrong and he listened to them, but maybe he’s listening to the wrong people.

“It would be the same as the abortion guidelines – he should speak to the right people.”

Prof Dornan stressed that Mr Poots was generally a good Health Minister for Northern Ireland.

“It depends what way he would like to be remembered,” Prof Dornan said. “I mean, if he wants to be remembered as a man who goes from crisis to crisis then carry on, but if he actually wants to be remembered for all the great things that he has done and the good work that he has done then he should really stop and think ‘am I surrounding myself with the right people’.”

Mr Poots was told earlier this month by Belfast High Court that he’d breached the ministerial code in continuing with the ban.

It now falls to UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to quash the ban in Northern Ireland.

Although NI First Minister Peter Robinson, who has defended Mr Poots, believes the ruling will be subjected to an appeal.

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.

In September, it was revealed Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) had spent £37,112 in relation to Mr Poots’ legal challenge.

Mr Poots has also used £40,000 of public money in order to fund a legal challenge to prevent same-sex couples from adopting children.

The DUP Assembly Member is a young earth creationist and rejects the theory of evolution. He remains opposed to same-sex relationships.

In September, Sinn Fein Assembly Member Maeve McLaughli said of Mr Poots: “The Health Minister has brought his own personal prejudices to this issue in the same way that these prejudices clouded his judgement regarding gay people donating blood.”

Mr Poots claims his decisions are based on protecting Northern Ireland’s blood supply.