Northern Ireland blood donation rules relaxed for gay and bisexual men

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Blood donationImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The change brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, which adopted the three-month limit in 2017

Gay and bisexual men in Northern Ireland will soon be able to donate blood three months after their last sexual activity, the department of health has announced.

The previous policy was to wait a year.

The change will take effect from 1 June, bringing NI into line with the rest of the UK, which adopted the three-month limit in 2017.

The health minister said on Wednesday his decision was based on "evidence regarding the safety of donated blood".

Robin Swann said: "Any one of us may require a blood transfusion in the future and we need to be confident that the blood we receive is safe."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The NI Blood Transfusion Service welcomed the announcement from the health minister

Every blood donation was tested for HIV and a number of other organisms, said the health minister.

"Not even the most advanced tests are 100% reliable, so it is vitally important for every donor to comply with any deferral rules that apply to them," he added.

In order for the NI Blood Transfusion Service to have "adequate preparation time", Mr Swann said the new policy would take effect from June.

'Safety is utmost priority'

A lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with other men was introduced in the 1980s amid concerns about HIV, however, this was changed to the 12-month wait policy in Great Britain in 2011 and later in Northern Ireland in 2016.

In 2017, it was decided the health department would begin preparatory work on a policy change to reduce the deferral time in Northern Ireland to bring it into line with the rest of the UK.

But this would need to be signed off by a health minister, who was not in post due to the collapse of the power-sharing government.

After the restoration of Stormont in January and the appointment of Robin Swann, the health minister said he took the decision to support recommendations on the policy from the UK group on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs in February.

LGBT support group The Rainbow Project welcomed the move on Wednesday and said: "No longer can LGBT people in Northern Ireland be expected to endure lesser treatment than our counterparts in other regions."

The NI Blood Transfusion Service also supported the change, saying: "The safety of our donors and staff, as always, is our utmost priority."

Donors should also keep in mind the public health advice around coronavirus, including not attending appointments if they or a member of their household are feeling unwell, added a statement from the NI Blood Transfusion Service.