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.