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.
This policy was announced by health minister Michelle O'Neill 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. But 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 criticised for being discriminatory towards 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 they'll review this in favour of screening sexual behaviour rather than orientation. That Northern Ireland have aligned their policy to the rest of the UK is a positive step in this direction.
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