Category Archives: Health

Jim Wells’ comments in last night’s hustings

Firstly all of those at LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland want to say we are glad to have read the news in the Belfast Telegraph the other day that Mrs Grace Wells is recovering from the rare condition that affected her a short while ago. We wish her all the best in the future and understand the strain this may have put Jim Wells under.

However, if he was really under a lot of stress looking after his wife it should surely have been grounds for him not to put himself under further stress on top of being an MLA and Health Minister to seek election to Westminster. We are putting this up front as Jim Wells in a statement issued last night (see below) mentioned personal stress in recent weeks.

It is this series of comments from last night’s hustings in South Down that has brought this to a head:

Jim Wells

The comments can be viewed in video clips online.

Must horrifying of all with a raucous crowd to the last part about abuse, he immediately sets out to repeat his comments as clarification that he had said them and wanted them to be heard

The last of the sequence is that one that caused the uproar but comments have been made by members of the DUP that they have been taken out of context to the early comments about haranguing Christians and being insatiable lead up to the one about abuse of children by those in homosexual relationships.

There are over 1,200 children currently in care in Northern Ireland as the result of being victims of abuse. Is Mr Wells therefore saying that over 600 of these are from the result of having two carers of the same sex? Note we did not say parents as currently he is not allowing same-sex couples to adopt here despite a court ruling that the law should be changed to allow this. The facts of course are that very few of those children are there as a result of same-sex parents from come from homes with a father and mother involved in their upbringing.

In context of course Mr Wells had previously said that all who took part in Pride were repugnant, this was long before his wife’s current illness.

Mr Wells comments about abuse also seem to flow his comments about the victim of a rape who becomes pregnant in 2014 he said:

“That is a tragic and difficult situation but should the ultimate victim of that terrible act [rape] – which is the unborn child – should he or she also be punished for what has happened by having their life terminated? No.”

There seems to be no realisation that the ultimate victim of any unwanted sexual encounter is the woman who has suffered. It is her body that has been violated, her emotions that have become distraught, her rights that have been abused. It leads to the question does the Health Minister really understand abuse in any situation.

Mr Wells also during the break between the first debate and vote on equal marriage in Stormont was in front of one of members, whom he had meet before, in the restaurant. When the member said hello and was about to ask how his wife and family were, was shunned by Mr Wells with the comment “Oh, you’re one of them!” before he turned heel and ended the civil on the part of our member’s conversation.

Here is Mr Wells’ response after the hustings debate last night:

“The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for me personally. I had just come from a hospital visit and my focus was not on the debate. Indeed, during the event I received several messages from the hospital.

“I have listened to a recording of the relevant part of the debate. I accept that one line of what I said caused offence and deep concern amongst members of the audience and beyond. I regret having wrongly made that remark about abuse and I’m sorry those words were uttered. The comment did not reflect my view nor that of my party.

“Within seconds of realising this error, I asked the Chairman to let me back in and twice corrected my remarks before the debate moved on. This clarification has been confirmed by the journalists present at the event. Partial clips, spin and selective reporting regrettably miss this.

“The neglect or abuse of children is awful and happens in unstable relationships whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. I make no distinction between anyone who neglects or abuses a child regardless of their sexual orientation. I trust people will accept my explanation and my apology.”

If we give Mr Wells the benefit of the doubt over the first sentence we would like to ask why has he made the past few weeks and next couple even more difficult for himself by standing for election in another legislature at this difficult personal time. Clearly this thought wasn’t to the forefront of his mind when he signed the papers allowing himself to be nominated as the DUP candidate for South Down.

But on the matter of an issue such as abuse which falls under his Health and Social Care remit he should surely be aware of the sensitive nature of his comments and the facts about the situation here in Northern Ireland. While he has the right to say he is opposed to same-sex marriage he does not have the right to make up statistics, facts and vilify every lesbian, gay or bisexual person in Northern Ireland in doing so.

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No evidence for NI upholding Blood Ban

The Department of Health, Social Services and Personal Safety have revealed in a Freedom of Information request to the BBC that former Minister Edwin Poots and current Minister Jim Wells have not had any medical evidence to support the continuation of the lifetime blood donation ban for men who’ve had sex with other men (MSM).

After spending over £40,000 of tax payers money to appeal Lord Justice Treacy’s ruling that maintaining the ban was irrational this is galling news. We have ministers elsewhere having to make cuts to public spending when the DHSSPS have been frivolously throwing it away on this court case. Without scientific evidence what other basis could there be for the DUP Ministers in the Department continuing on a path that diverges from the other three health ministers in the UK? Even the minister in the Republic of Ireland has said he is considering following GB in lifting the lifetime ban.

The only reason that not one but two DUP ministers can have reached the same “decision” is that they are prejudiced in some way towards bisexual and gay men (even those who only had a brief dalliance with another man in their youth). This is nothing new for the DUP but it is becoming a worn record. I say it once again without any evidence this is institutionalised homophobia. There is an irrational fear amongst the DUP about all things LGBT, the latest incarnation of which is the conscience clause that would allow that institutionalised homophobia to spread out into shops, businesses and services.

The Liberal Democrats believe in factual based policy forming. There are no facts to uphold this policy of the DUP, there is indeed evidence that increasing the blood donation pool as in England, Wales and Scotland would have benefits in volume of units available with negligible increased risk, and even that risk is decreasing all the time with advances in testing.

Yesterday we learned that in Canada where there is a ban on giving blood for transfusion, MSM can donate blood for medical research. Which when you think that the point of donating blood is to save lives is still a valid reason for donation. It is one way that the DUP could allow the conscience of MSM who want to help others through blood donation, even if a referral period were to be introduced.

In the meantime we leave you with this thought from TVs own Dr Christian Jessen

Dr Christian

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Tom Buchanan’s disgraceful message to young people

The DUP have an attraction to only one of the Old Testement abominations. You never hear them speaking out against (amongst others):

  • Eating things from the river or sea that don’t have fins (i.e. lobster, prawns) Leviticus 11: 12
  • Or Ostrich burgers Leviticus 11: 16
  • Those who are greedy for gain Jeremiah 6: 13-15
  • Women wearing things that pertain to men, or men dressing as women Deuteronomy 22: 5
  • Haughty eyes, lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, hearts that devise wicked plans, feet that run hastily to evil, false witnesses (not looking at you Edwin Poots), those who show discord among brothers (not looking at those leaflets in East Belfast late last year) Proverbs 6: 16-19
  • Those who have committed abomination with their neighbour’s wife Ezekiel 22: 11

Speaking of which we end up talking about the wife of the First Minister.

When Iris Robinson at the time still the MP and MLA for Strangford said on Radio Ulster that homosexuality was an abomination she was quite rightly rebuked from many sectors of the Northern Irish community. However, it appears that DUP elected repesentatives have not learned.

Today we learn that last week Tom Buchanan, DUP MLA for West Tyrone, during a NI Assembly Let’s Talk event aimed at school children, in response to a question on homosexuality and marriage equality. He is reported as saying homosexuality ‘isn’t right’ but then went further to say it was ‘an abomination’. Whilst some of the assembly school children applauded the majority voiced their approval.

This sort of comment aimed at young people shows the need for the long overdue Sexual Orientation Strategy as well as the need for an education policy that recognises LGBTQ young people go to school in Northern Ireland and prevents bullying or casting them aside. Indeed we have done for many years and generation and have often come up against all sorts of barriers to being open about who we are.

Mr Buchanan had no idea if any LGBTQ young people were in that meeting, nor does he have any idea as to the mental state that any of them might be in. Speaking from personal experience at that sort of age I didn’t like myself for my own sexual orientation because of the reinforcing behaviour of politicians, church leaders etc around me at the time. At times the sense that Northern Ireland was rejecting me lead me to contemplate suicide. Therefore this sort of comments still coming from public officials, into a company of young and potentially some questioning teenagers who many not have the support network either in their school, or amongst their peers could be potentially damaging.

One thing that I am glad about is that the majority of Mr Buchanan’s audience vocalised their disgust at what he had said. Which should mean that any LGBTQ young person who was present may have felt support from within the room. But what if one of those young people found themselves sitting amongst friends who were in that group who applauded.

While we respect Mr Buchanan’s right to speak in opposition to marriage equality he and others should think about the language that they use in doing so, the consequences that such language could have, especially in light of the age and potential insecurity of the audience.

LGBTQ young people in Northern Ireland are substantially more prone to self harm, or attempt to commit suicide. This is not because they are more mentally unstable but because they feel like outcasts and often that they are the only one. This is especially true in rural areas such as in Tyrone and Fermanagh where of the young people at this meeting came from.

If any young person was affected by what Mr Buchanan said and wants someone to talk to I would recommend GLYNI you can contact them through their website, or if it is urgent call Cara-Friend on 02890890202

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Filed under Health, homophobia, young people

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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World AIDS Day: Going to Zero

Today is World AIDS Day, it marks the 30th Anniversary of the first diagnosis in the UK. So how has it been covered by the media and blogs here in the UK.

First up both our local party chair Michael Carchrie Campbell and LGBT+ Lib Dems Coordinator Stephen Glenn marked the event on their own blogs. Our friends at LGBT Greens NI also take a in depth look at the situation worldwide and here in Northern Ireland. Jibber JABer is a blooger I have never met but also blogs about how he came face to face with HIV for the first time, right here in Belfast through the experience of a friend.

Sadly it came on the same day as record number of new diagnosis of people living with HIV was announced though the Health Minister and Chief Medical Officer did mention the fact that there is still stigma attached to those living with HIV. So that is the only coverage that there was in the Belfast Telegraph. However, the Mayor of Newry did find time to release red balloons to mark  the occasion.

On the BBC’s local politics show Hearts and Minds going out tonight on World AIDS Day there is a four party panel debate. Of the four parties represented only Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Féin is wearing a red ribbon. Early last month you couldn’t have seen anyone on BBC Northern Ireland or UTV not wearing red in the form of a poppy. Maybe the lack of positive coverage of the going to zero focus for World AIDS Day from 2011-2015 in Northern Ireland is a sign of a deeper malaise that it doesn’t affect us, but as was pointed out by Edwin Poots earlier there are 470 individuals living with HIV in Northern Ireland as are their partners, family and friends.

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Fifty pounds to put you points to Health Minister…

…no thank you.

I’m trusting that Edwin Poots is already aware of my feeling on the issue of his inaction over the blood ban in Northern Ireland trailing the rest of the Union over the issue of men who have sex with men, put not in the last 12 months. But it is not something I think myself, the Rainbow Project, the HIV Support Centre or anyone else would shell out £50 to have access to do so at the DUP conference

The fact that he and members of his party seem to refuse to meet with LGBT groups, despite numerous invites to meet them either at their own organisational locations or on the hill. The DUP were absent from the Pride on the Hill debate earlier this year, when shock, horror health issues, among others, were discussed with Sinn Féin, UUP, SDLP and Alliance party representatives. The DUP have continued their silence in not agreeing to requests to meet the Minister, who has been in place for six months now.

At certain party conferences there are public sessions it is something that I do get invites  to so I know such things exist.

The DUP are saying that:

“We charge an administration fee to cover the room hire and lunch provided for every event at the conference and this is no different.

“No-one attends conference free of charge and no one leaves disappointed with our programme.

“Conference is not open to members of the public – there is no question of members of the public being asked to pay to see any DUP Minister or MLA.

“Anyone wishing to see our ministers and members are able to do so in the constituency or at the assembly any day of the week.”

Well it appears to be easier for some than others if that is the case. I don’t think any organisation that isn’t already exhibiting at the conference will be putting questions to the Health Minister at £50 a shot.

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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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