Northern Ireland's lifetime ban on gay men donating blood has finally been lifted. Instead, a "one-year deferral system" has been put in place, which has existed in the rest of the UK since 2011. Basically, this means gay and bisexual men can give blood one year after their last sexual contact with a man.
The health minister, Michelle O'Neill, announced this policy in June. "As health minister, my first responsibility in this matter is patient safety," she said. "Surveillance data from England, Scotland, and Wales and survey evidence from across Britain and the north of Ireland have provided assurance that the risk is lower with a one-year deferral."
The ban on gay men donating blood was brought in across the UK during the 1980s AIDS crisis, but was lifted in England, Scotland, and Wales in 2011. In June this year, it was reported that the risk to blood safety from gay male donations had actually decreased since the policy changed.
The current policy is still heavily criticized for being discriminatory toward gay men, and short-sighted considering the NHS Blood and Transplant service is continually driving for more donations, while the majority of gay men are unable to donate. The government has said it will review this in favor of screening sexual behavior rather than orientation. That Northern Ireland has aligned its policy to the rest of the UK is a positive step in this direction.