Tag Archives: Blood Ban

The year ahead for Northern Ireland’s LGBT community

So we are now in 2014 so what can the LGBT community in Northern Ireland expect to happen.

Firstly here at LGBT+ Lib Dems Northern Ireland we want to congratulate Stephen Glenn on getting elected to the LGBT+ Liberal Democrat Exec. It is one of the most geographically diverse execs that Plus has ever had and will ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom are recognised and none are left behind. Past execs will have known Stephen and others from Northern Ireland reminding them that there is still work to do here on so many issues. So if you aren’t currently a member of LGBT+ Lib Dems but are a party member you can sign up, they will be working for you here in Northern Ireland.

Firstly of course we know that from 29th March some marriages from elsewhere in the UK will not be recognised here in Northern Ireland. On that date the first same-sex marriages will take place in England and Wales, but should those couples then move here or visit here their marriage will be downgraded to a civil partnership. This will be true even if their marriage was carried out by one of the religious groups that is looking to be able to do so from that date. Therefore their religious ceremony will not only be downgraded from a marriage to a partnership, but also from a religious ceremony to a civil one. Can you imagine the outcry of Northern Irish Christians if they were told that their church marriages were only to be recognised by the civil requirements within that ceremony and not as a act before God?

We also have the latest round of appeals against the MSM (men who have had sex with men) blood ban. Last week both Edwin Poots The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety DHSSPS and Jeremy Hunt Department of Heath (Westminster version) have announced they will be appealing Mr Justice Treacy’s ruling from last year. The Stormont Department are appealing the whole ruling, whereas their Westminster conterparts are only appealing the bit where because off the irrational approach from Stormont importing GB blood from any source that the decision should be returned to Westminster.

Having been promised it by the end of 2012 and then my the end of 2013 nobody has yet seen hide nor hair of the sexual orientation strategy. Late last year Sinn Féin intimated that they were prepared to publish this on behalf of OFMdFM but that the DUP had been delaying things. Will it appear in 2014? Also will there be an updated version of Cohesion, Sharing and Intregration (CSI)? Bearing in mind that CSI was criticised for ignoring most of the areas that needed cohesion, sharing and integration and dealt many with the past and sectarianism, the issues at the heart of the recent Haass talks this is a sensitive matter.

We will also wait and see how the publication of the Adoption and Children’s Bill, which we expect sometime before the summer recess, reflects October’s judicial review on the subject of unmarried and same-sex couples ability to adopt here. However, like the long promised sexual orientation strategy this Bill has been long promised and long delayed from publication. If it fails to take into consideration the points raised in the judicial review that it was in the best interests of the children to extent the range of people who could adopt.It did not affect children negatively who eventually adopts them, what does affect them is the length of them they fail to be found adoptive parents, and here is where Northern Ireland lags behind.

There is one final event this year which may have an impact on LGBT issues here, if not during the next twelve months possibly in the future: that is the referendum in Scotland. Most of the protestant, unionist, loyalist ancestry of that population in Northern Ireland actually stems from Scotland, not England and Wales. So what if Scotland were to vote yes to independence? How does that affect the calls for Northern Ireland to remain part of the continuing UK? It could be argued that the tie no longer exists, don’t forget that the unionist population make a great amount of capital out of being Ulster Scots. So does that mean Northern Ireland should become united with Scotland, or will the nationalist make the point that we now have most in common with the rest of our own island? There are ramifications here that most in Northern Ireland haven’t thought about or for that matter come to the logical conclusions off.

Firstly on blood, marriage and adoption we need to get Northern Irish Ministers to fully recognise all aspects of minorities as section 75.  Also we need to get the media and politicians over the fact that the blood ban is against actively gay men giving blood. It is not, we are merely looking for the same conditions that exist in the rest of the UK a twelve month deferral. This allows men who have in the past had a sexual encounter (even just once and safely) from joining the blood pool; they may well have been married to a women for over 20 years (who is also excluded from giving blood due to his past history).  However, I think the most important thing that the people of Northern Ireland don’t yet realise is that the Northern Ireland departments have been spending their tax revenue on so many irrational and what appear to be homophobic, but certainly anti-progressive, appeals to prevent equality for everyone in Northern Ireland with the rest of the union they espouse to hold so dear.

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High Court ruling on blood ban welcome

Today in the High Court in Belfast, Mr Justice Traecy ruled that Health Minister Edwin Poots continuation of the lifetime ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) was “irrational”. He also ruled that the Minster had broken the ministerial code in coming to his conclusion.

Speaking about the decision LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland co-ordinator Stephen Glenn said:

“The Liberal Democrats across the UK have long been campaigning for a science based approach to blood donation, not one based on fear at the initial outbreak of HIV in the 80s. The party is also campaigning for a policy that is based on sexual practice rather that tarring of an entire sexual orientation even in light of the 12 month referral period.

“This decision should pave the way for bi-sexual men who are in long term heterosexual relationships, men who experimented with men in their distant pass or long term celibate gay men to be able to give blood based on the safe practices of their current lifestyle.

“The decision today from Mr Justice Traecy shows that the decision made by the Health Minister was not based on science provided by The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) or any other agency but on personally held beliefs. Such a basis for policy making has made Northern Ireland isolated in the UK and appear backward.

“I hope that Mr Poots will accept this decision from the court and take the approach he followed when the High Court ruled against him on the case of same-sex couples adopting. We cannot afford for the Minister to take another appeal to the Supreme Court because he has not got a legal ruling he agrees with.”

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Poots lacks consistency on blood

Edwin Poots gathering his own evidence?

On Sunday Politics Northern Ireland today, Edwin Poots calls all MSM sexual activity ‘risky’ he then went on to say that he would want to see all ‘risky behaviour’ by his definition treated the same way, going on to name two examples. Those examples were people who slept with prostitutes and those who had sex with people from sub-Saharan Africa.

Now if Mr Poots wants consistency they let him bring it about.

For years the two groups he honed in on have been subject to a deferral period before returning to donating blood.

Indeed if you read the National Blood Transfusion service website you will see this:

You should not give blood for 12 months after sex with:

A man who has had sex with another man (if you’re a female).

A prostitute.

Anyone who has ever injected themselves with drugs.

Anyone with haemophilia or a related blood clotting disorder who has received clotting factor concentrates.

Anyone of any race who has been sexually active in parts of the world where AIDS/HIV is very common. This includes countries in Africa.

You see these groups have long been subject to a deferral period so that blood borne diseases can incubate and be detected at a future date. So why does it not apply to men who have had sex with other men (MSM)? After all a woman who has sex with a MSM can give blood again after 12 months. This was one anomaly for wives of bisexual men and remains so under Northern Ireland’s lifetime ban.

But either Poots doesn’t know about this or he is going to put an even bigger strain on Northern Ireland blood stocks by taking these other groups up to a life time ban.

He is also in refusing to lift the lifetime ban putting all men who haveEVER had sex with another man even years ago in the same bracket as people who:

  • have worked as a prostitute
  • have injected themselves with drugs
  • have ever had syphilis, HTLV (Human T – lymphotropic virus), HIV or hepatitis C

That is quite a statement he is making especially to those men who have not had sex with other men in a long time. As Health Committee chair Sue Ramsey says:

“We are crying out for blood donation… we have had to bring in blood from England, Scotland and Wales because we need it.

“There are people here willing to give blood and like anybody who has given blood, it will be screened, so we shouldn’t be going down this line of his own prejudice coming into play.”

What is more one of the correspondences that Poots quoted as helping him make up his mind was from the Irish Health Minister saying that their were no plans there to lift their lifetime ban. This despite his Westminster, Cardiff and Edinburgh counterparts all taking an alternate view which Sinn Féin’s Ramsey is advocating.

It is a moment that Sinn Féin take the UK line while the DUP seem to have lined up the Republic of Ireland, but then we are used to DUP Minister’s following the rest of the UK when it suits them, but on LGBT issues that tends to not be an area that they like being the same as the United Kingdom.

On the same day the UUP take the whip away from Lord Maginnis for is comments about gay sex, we end up having the DUP by their actions and words in Government tarred with the same brush.

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Poots knowledge of blood shown to be lacking

Let me start by giving you a dictionary definition:

haemophilia UShemophilia [ˌhiːməʊˈfɪlɪə ˌhɛm-]

(Medicine / Pathology) an inheritable disease, usually affecting only males but transmitted by women to their male children, characterized by loss or impairment of the normal clotting ability of blood so that a minor wound may result in fatal bleeding.

Straight forward enough you would think. Haemophilia is a hereditary not a communicable disease.
Well not if you are the Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots. In Private Eye you will find this:

Somehow Northern Ireland’s health minister has meet people who have become haemophiliacs through blood donations. Maybe this was the secret blood-borne infections that the minister alluded to.

But if he has found a case in which haemophilia is being passed on through donations surely he should be banning all women from giving blood? If that is the case how can he possibly make up the shortfall? Maybe, he will have to come to a swift decision allowing men who have had sex with other men to give blood in the same way that they can in the rest of the UK.

The minister has yet again this evening avoided debate on the issue of the Northern Irish blood ban on the Stephen Nolan TV Show. Stephen empty chaired the minister and asked the chair some very telling questions that the public deserve answers to, as well as a couple of questions from the chair. If he keeps dodging the questions we can only assume that his reasons for not lifting the blood-ban are based on evidence at all.

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Seven months on and still no word on blood ban

You may recall back in early September we first raised the issue of the Northern Ireland minister responsible for health dragging his heals over lifting the lifetime ban on men who have (or have had) sex with men MSM from giving blood. In October we posted that the minster was not in a rush to come to those conclusions, effectively this meant that the minister did not have to answer freedom of information requests about the advise he had received in the run up to his original statement that there was no need to change the system here in Northern Ireland, which appears to be an emphatic statement of a decision in itself.

The NUS-USI are adding their voice to the concern that the minister has yet to seemily come to a decision on this at their conference this week. After MLA’s from other parties in September last year already raised concerns that the minister is using stigma of homosexuality rather than scientific evidence in coming to his decision.

When the minister first seemed to come to his decision I sent an email dated 23 September asking under the Freedom of Information Act for:

  • Minutes of any meetings or information that the minister has had pertaining to the SaBTO report “Donation selection criteria review – men who have had sex with men” 8-Sep-11
  • Minutes of ant meetings or information that the minister has had that deal with importing of blood into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK after 7 November 2011
  • Minutes of any meetings or information that the minister has had regarding as yet undiscovered or undeclared blood bourne diseases

According to a response to the NUS-USI story a spokesperson for the DHSSP said:

 “The Minister has not yet made a final decision on this matter. He has asked for further information regarding the level of risks.

“Before making a final decision the Minister will consider all the relevant evidence and will take into account the issue of wider public confidence.”

I shall be looking for what that further information is once he does come to his decision when I resubmit an FOI request once he comes to a decision. I shall also be asking for when such further information was requested and of whom.

However, the last point of information requested was because of a statement made by the minister in September:

“Blood-borne infections, well-recognised or as yet undiscovered, have the potential to destroy healthy lives. Public safety must be my primary concern, and I want the Northern Ireland public to have maximum confidence in our blood supply.”

I am still wondering what new blood-borne infection what will only affect men who have had sex with men, even with a condom, is out there that the minister in not telling us about. In light of other infections at our hospital’s water taps that he is not seeking a public inquiry into, indeed then very quickly coming to a decision that nothing further needed to be done, it seems a bit strange that the specialist body on safety of blood can present evidence that the risk.

One does have to wonder how much worse this new disease is that the one addition case of HIV infected blood donation by 3215 is too much for Poots to even contemplate as affecting public confidence.

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Up to the Assembly to adopt equality for LGBT citizens

So the Northern Ireland attorney general has come to his decision on Gay Couples adopting in Northern Ireland, something that I wrote about earlier.

Mr John Larkin QC has ruled that the ban should remain in place until the Stormont Assembly decide otherwise.

So we are having to rely on the same body that refuses to lift the ban on Men who have had sex with other men from every donating blood, yet have imported units from the rest of the UK who have. The same Assembly that apparently is uniquely not giving ‘active consideration‘ to equal marriage. Indeed the only part of the UK to actually have had civil partnership regulations drawn up for it during a period when devolved power had been suspended*.

Hardly surprising that the LGBT community in Northern Ireland isn’t holding up much hope of said Assembly keeping up fully with their Section 75 requirements under the Northern Ireland Act. It seems that the community themselves are pushing for these things without much support from out side the LGBT Sector.

So yet another case of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland waiting for the Assembly to move in the same way as the rest of the UK.

* The long suspension of devolution from 14 October 2002 to 7 May 2007

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62% of Northern Ireland in favour of Equal Marriage

You would think that result in a survey would garner some sort of headline. It didn’t and I missed it, but thanks to Stephen Donnan for pointing it out to me.

You will find it at the bottom of this report on a survey by the Northern Ireland Assembly Election Study project with the fieldwork taking place between May 18 and June 17, 2011, surveying 1200 people.

The question was:

“Do you think that gays and homosexuals should have the same rights as everyone else, such as the right to get married and to adopt children?”

The survey found than 44 per cent of people responded definitely yes, with 18 per cent saying probably yes.

Just 20.6 per cent said definitely no.

These figures are astounding for Northern Ireland. We’re the one part of the UK where lesbian and gay couple are not yet allowed to adopt children as a couple. We are the one part of the UK where a consultation is not only not on the horizon, but the consequences of it elsewhere are not even apparently under active consideration for the Sexual Orientation Strategy that has yet to be published. Men who have sex with men in Northern Ireland are the only ones in the UK who still face a lifetime ban on donating.

It leads us to the question how in touch are our MLAs and Ministers on the Hill at Stormont to these issues. The people are clearly more ready for change than they are. The DUP are still famous for not attending events they are invited to by the LGBT community.

Well the people have spoken in this survey.

Let us not forget that when we are talking about a shared future we are talking about a shared future for all. All is even defined in Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, just so they can check who all is.

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Will Northern Ireland lift blood ban by 3215?

The reason I ask of course is because today the permanent lifetime ban on giving blood is being replaced a 12 month deferral in England, Scotland and Wales, but not here. In his initial comments on 23 September the minister Edwin Poots said there was a increase in risk by allowing men who had sex with men from giving blood, and there was no reason to follow the other three health minsters in lifting the ban.

He has subsequently said he has yet to make up his mind.

But why 3215?

Well on 26 October the Minister faced the health committee who asked him some questions about this issue. Here is what the chair Michelle Gildenew pointed out at one point.

The Chairperson:

The briefing paper that we got from the Department was very helpful on compliance levels and on the current risk of HIV-infected donations being released into the blood supply. I refer you to the fact that the information provided in the paper states that, if the 12-month referral were introduced, the risk would be 0·228 per million donations. The current risk is 0·227 per million donations, so that would be a rise of 0·001 per million donations. How many donations do we get here in the North in a year? I would imagine that one million would be quite high, but the number would need to be over 100 million donations before the figures would kick in. That is an awful lot of blood for such a small place.

Mr Poots:

I do not know precisely what the figure is for Northern Ireland, but I know that, across the UK, it is around 2·5 million.

The Chairperson:

So, you would presume that we certainly do not get anywhere near one million donations.

Mr Poots:

Given that we have 1·8% of the population, a divisor of just over 30 would be close to the figure.

The Chairperson:

It would still not be near one million.

Indeed not using the Minister’s own figures that is 83,333. But 1.8% is actually close to a divisor of 50. For the benefit of this scenario however I will be taking his 30 divisor and merely using 83,000.

100,000,000 divided by 83,000 equals 1204

Therefore assuming neutral population growth and a maintenance of blood provision would see an extra single case by 3215.

Using the actual divisor of 50 is 50,000 (the actual figure from 1.8% is 45,000)

100,000,000 divided by 50,000 equals 2000 (divided by 45,000 equals 2222)

Therefore the actual figure is one by 4011 (4233).

Maybe some in the future may have to prompt a future health minister about not lifting the blood ban nearer any of these dates.

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Poots hardly rushing after years of concern

So Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister, has said he is not in a rush about changing the rules on blood donation for men who have (had) sex with other men. I add the had in brackets as the current step that he is not rushing into is to introduce a 12 month deferral period. Yet only last month he said that the current position in Northern Ireland “should not be altered“. Just what is he deciding or does he speak first and decide later.

Now personally I have documentary evidence that I have been campaigning for this issue for over 10 years, I’ve found various ways to campaign including that one seeking other people to give blood for those of us who can’t. I also have a letter from the late Robin Cook, in which he acknowledges that there is a lack of scientific basis behind a number of the men who have had sex with other men being excluded.

Look instead at the SaBTO report from which Poots has been given qualitative and quantitative evidence and advice. This report was put together with advise from across the three devolved health ministries and then only published in September 2011.

Strangely Mr Poots has had concern about blood levels in Northern Ireland from quite early after he took office. On 13 June 2011 little over a month after he assumed office he was urging all those eligible to give blood, the picture is from the DUP Flickr feed. I doubt that the civil servants in the Department Health omitted briefing the minister of the drafting of the SaBTO report at that point. Indeed the draft report would have been available in his first day briefing having been available since April 2011.

So while the Minister claims he is taking his time coming to a decision he may have had less time that Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon, but has had the same amount of time as Wales Lesley Griffiths* to consider the opinion of the panel of experts that SaBTO had looking at blood donation criteria.

If the Minister is still contemplating his decision after his rather final words in September we should applaud him for doing so. But like too much LGBT legislation in Northern Ireland we don’t want the devolved powers to kick it into the long grass hoping that people will forget about it, only for central government to force it through. Let’s have some action after all the Belfast Agreement says that all policy should be tested against LGBT criteria among others.

* Ok three days less that in Wales.

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UUP Leader backs end of the blood ban

Tom Elliott being questioned by Noel Thompson

Tom Elliott being questioned by Noel Thompson on BBC Northern Ireland's Hearts and Minds 20 Oct 2011

On BBC Northern Ireland’s Hearts and Minds this week the Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Tom Elliott was asked by Noel Thompson some follow-up questions to his own statement on being inclusive. First up interestingly (click to view from that question) was the issue of the Democratic Unionist Party Minister Edwin Poots refusing the follow the rest of the UK in changing the terms under which men who have sex with men MSM can give blood.

Noel: The DUP Health Minister, Edwin Poots, refused to lift the ban on homosexual blood transfusions in Northern Ireland. One of your MLAs  John McAllister said that, that was “irrational prejudice”. Who was right?

Tom: Well, what I think that we need to do is look at experience. We can’t just ignore what is happening in the rest of the UK. And I must indicate, I would have thought, that the tests that you undergo, and I’m as blood donor, that once you give those tests that it can actually can define if there is anything in the blood that can’t be used for other people. So I don’t see any reason that you cannot use blood providing that it is tested beforehand.

It may not be the perfect answer, but then it is not the perfect question as it omits some of the groups that the current deferral period in the rest of the UK lifts out of the ban they currently face. Men who had sex with another man many years ago and the female partners of those men now, not just homosexuals who have not had sexual contact for some time.

But what Tom ended up saying is actually very much inline with the recently passed Liberal Democrat policy. It called for the most thorough and advanced screening process. This is now a lot quicker for HIV than the need for the current window requires. The worry is over Hepatitis B and C but these can be inoculated against. As many of those who have attended a GUM (Genito Urinary Medicine) clinic can attest these are given to MSM or anyone who attends to ensure their own sexual health. Therefore MSM who regularly get tested for STIs are actually a very safe potential blood donation grouping.

If Tom Elliott is prepared to look at what scientists are saying over the issue of blood donation, why isn’t our health minister with all his advisers? Of does he like the former Defence Secretary in Westminster take advise from elsewhere and possibly run an alternative health policy.

Today I should have had a response to my Freedom of Information request into what advise the minister had received, however I did get a rather polite letter from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety on Tuesday advising that this should instead be no later than the 17 November.  So I still await what was information the minster sought and was given on this issue.

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