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Health Minister lifts lifetime blood donation ban for gay men

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed an application by Health Minister Michelle O Neill to take an urgent decision to lift the ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with other men (MSM).

The decision follows an Appeal Court ruling in March which confirmed that this is a devolved matter, and substantial new evidence showing that the risk of contracting HIV from donated blood is lower with a one-year deferral than with a lifetime ban.

Announcing her decision to change to a one-year deferral, Minister O’Neill said: “My first responsibility in this matter is patient safety.

“Evidence from across the UK has provided assurance that the risk is lower with a one-year deferral. My decision is based solely on the evidence regarding the safety of donated blood.”

The Minister went on to stress the importance of donors’ compliance with the deferral rules.

She added: “The safety of donated blood depends on two things: donor selection and the testing of blood. Every blood donation is tested for HIV and a number of other organisms.

“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.

“I will instruct the NI Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) accordingly. To allow NIBTS adequate preparation time, the new policy will come into effect on 1 September 2016.”

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