Simon Hamilton indicates that the Gay Blood Ban may be coming to an end

Interesting platform piece in the News Letter today by the Health Minister, Simon Hamilton who seems to be indicating that the DUP’s policy on banning gay people from donating blood could soon be coming to an end.

Here’s what he had to say in his article;

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.

From the UUP, Jo Anne Dobson supports lifting the ban;

When the demand for blood is often higher than the availability of stocks it meant that the continuation of the ban here was ridiculous given local hospitals receive blood donations from Great Britain where no such life-time ban on gay men exists.

I trust that when Simon Hamilton now receives the medical evidence he is waiting for, which will again inevitably state that the ban is not necessary, he will ensure the policy is adopted by all members of the DUP – including those who have acted so irrationally in the past.

As Sam Cooke once said “A change is gonna come”

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • Kevin Breslin

    Believe it or not this does not surprise me. The DUP in my eyes were likely to alter their opinion on this topic. I would question whether the legal and political channels can accomplish anything without initiating a scientific review. It’s just nitpicking but if there is medical authority already available to speed up the legal and political channels it is heartening. The one year deferral is specifically about hepatitis, I think there are some questions about lowering that with better diagnostic abilities emerging. It still borders on discrimination in that there is a question over whether straight people who are equally as sexually active as the average MSM blood donor would be at similar level of risk.

    Both parts of Ireland are likely to move towards adopting the G.B policy in years.

    Whether it’s 3000, 300, or even just 30 MSMs giving blood per year, we aren’t talking about a “right to give blood” we are talking about the right to life protected by these acts by eight times as much and across a wider range of possible rare blood groups. I believe I have heard that one single blood donation can help up to eight people.

    The vast majority of people here don’t give blood while the vast majority have a right and and a quality of blood worth giving. We need to not think of it so much as an individual right but as a moral good.

  • Korhomme

    Not just hepatitis, but also HIV. HIV was the origin of the ban in the 1980s.

  • Granni Trixie

    The first of several steps the leadership in DUP will take to get themselves out a corner.

    Aside from that, what would be progress, would be if DUP Minister of health was committed to make evidential based decisions rather than those based on a
    particular moral view in this case impacting on gay people and which many see as just a cover for homophobia.

    I say safety first. it may or may not be risky to take blood from people wth certain conditions. I myself experienced this when going to give blood. They said that as no one knew enough about my condition, they assessed it wasn’t worth the risk. Sounds reasonable.

    I am spelling this out however because I do thnk that safety considerations trumps what to some people is an equality consideration.

  • Kevin Breslin

    HIV is faster to scan for than hepatitis B

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think reading this as the DUP accepting a greater degree of moral liberalism would be premature. I think when you draw contrast with Leo Vardakar’s position as minister for Health in the Republic of Ireland who is reviewing the ban, it seems like Simon Hamilton is following suit, albeit having a lot less exposure to the medical world than the former doctor.

    Perhaps there is a problem in this island that we don’t have a strong homegrown epidemiology study into blood born infection rates identifying the risk factor analysis of particular individuals. Infection rates in donated blood samples are extremely rare, and I do believe that blood is screened anyway

  • Korhomme

    It can take several months before HIV is detected in someone who is infected: hence, I gather, the 12-month delay elsewhere.

  • Korhomme

    The Blood Transfusion Service is very careful about who they accept blood from. It may harm some people to donate; in others, there may be a (very small) risk of the transmission of disease. The service is very safety aware.

    (When the legal process is finished, I hope to provide a blog piece here about all of this.)

  • Granni Trixie

    None better to do so,Korhomme.

  • Korhomme


  • Kevin Breslin

    Months, yes … But you have to go with the serious condition with the slowest detection rate and it will cover the others. HIV is more aggressive in its spread.

  • Korhomme

    Sorry, Kevin, I’m not following you. What do you mean with ‘slowest detection’? Do you mean that Hep B takes longer to become apparent, to be measurable? Or Hep C?

  • Kevin Breslin

    There’s been a House of Lords motion on this very topic where it is believed that a hepatitis B vaccine may be able to reduce the risk factor. Follow what you want to follow.

  • Korhomme

    I’ve been ‘vaccinated’ against Hep B, and I have an appropriate reaction; otherwise, I could not have continued to operate.

    When the legal process is concluded, I’ll present a post about all this.

  • Granni Trixie

    Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t it the case that medical professionals for whom vaccines (as preventative measure) don’t appear to ‘take’ cannot practice ( think I read of nurses in GP practice whose system was resistant to the vaccine who had to gve up their jobs because of this). Come to think of it aren’t there guiding rules for professionals concerning the vaccinations ?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Vaccines may not be able because either the immune system of the patient is too weak or too strong for the vaccine. If someone’s immune system is too strong for a vaccine, there is a rationale that either the vaccine is weak, or possibly the immune system is strong and could fight the infection anyway. A more serious problem is if the pathogen becomes vaccine resistant of course.

  • Korhomme

    I think you’re right, GT. IIRC, all medical students must be vaccinated against Hep B. It may be that if they don’t exhibit an immune response they may not continue their studies, but I’m not certain. I’m not sure about profis and vaccinations at this stage.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’d second that.

  • Gaygael

    Seems the pragmatists have truly couped the dup. First softening?

    As an aside David, it’s an msm blood ban. Not a gay people ban.

  • TruthToPower

    I never knew blood could be gay. I live and learn.
    Seriously though, only 3-4 centuries ago, Holland of all countries was a Calvinist state. Imagine a Christian Iran. Yet look at it now.

    How did it happen?

    Well for centuries, Holland was existentially threatened and harmed by Roman Catholic empires. Holland’s reaction was to embrace the Refromationist extreme. When the threat subsided over the years thereafter, it’s religiosity started to relax and now we have Holland the bastion of liberalism that we know.

    However I do notice Holland is veering to the right in light of immigration fears

    You see, extremism comes from fear.

    Perhaps if the threat of a republican takeover of NI subsides in the years ahead, we could see hashbars in Aghohill. I hope not but let’s see

  • Kevin Breslin
  • eac1968

    You’re correct Korhomme. All medical students must be vaccinated against Hep B, and if they don’t exhibit a response they have to withdraw from the course. (Source: Me! [as a former staff member of the Faculty of Medicine, QUB])

  • Turgon

    Well I would have thought a haematologist might be a better person than a retired surgeon. Just as asking a libel lawyer to comment on the law concerning libel would be better than asking a wills and probate lawyer.