Northern Irish Department of Health has no evidence to support gay blood ban

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The Northern Irish Department of Health has said it does not have any evidence to back up maintaining a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.

Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, which allow men to donate blood if they have not had sex with a man for a year, Northern Ireland maintains a lifetime ban on any man who has had sex with a man donating blood.

A judge has ruled that the ban should be lifted, but the health minister of Northern Ireland, Jim Wells, has appealed to keep it in place.

The BBC, through a freedom of information request, has asked the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to provide its medical evidence to support the ban.

A response read: “This department does not hold any papers in relation to medical evidence to support maintaining the permanent blood donor deferral for men who have had sex with men donating blood”.

“The department takes advice on blood safety matters from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

“SaBTO was content that based on this and other evidence, a change to 12 month deferral would maintain the safety of blood transfusions, and recommended that communications about policy change should emphasise the importance of compliance. SaBTO found that the evidence no longer supported a lifetime ban.”

The ban was removed in England, Wales and Scotland in 2011, but continues to be in place in Northern Ireland. Former Health Minister Edwin Poots kept the ban in place, ostensibly as a matter of public safety, but a judge recently ruled that his decision was affected by “religious bias“.

The Northern Ireland government has spent £40,000 of public money fighting to keep the ban in place.