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.