Irish GBMSM blood ban "incongruous", says Varadkar

To meet demands, Ireland is importing blood from the UK where GBMSM can donate freely, prompting Varadkar to call out the Irish Blood Transfusion Service for this double standard.

Tánaister Leo Varadkar in an interview with Newstalk
Image: YouTube

Tánaiste Varadkar is calling for a change in the restrictions faced by GBMSM (gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men) who wish to donate blood in Ireland.

Ireland is crying out for blood donors, so much so that there is concern that over the possibility of widespread cancellation of medical procedures.

Despite regular call-outs for blood donors, GBMSM in Ireland still face a deferral period of twelve months before they can donate, a policy that came into place in 2017. Simply put, GBMSM cannot donate blood if they have had homosexual sex within the last calendar year.

“I’d support a change in rules moving towards an individual risk assessment, away from excluding any particular group, like LGBT people among others,” Varadkar said to The Irish Examiner, “but I would hold to the principle that this should be a scientific, expert decision made by IBTS, not a political one.”

But the idea that this decision could be a purely political one is faulty because, to combat the shortage of supply, a bulk consignment of blood has been imported from the UK, where GBMSM men do not face the same restrictions. This means that the IBTS (Irish Blood Transfusion Service) are accepting donations from UK-based GBMSM, but not their Irish counterparts.

“It certainly seems incongruous now that we have to import blood products from the UK,” Varadkar goes on to say. “At the time, IBTS argued that precautionary principle should apply and we had enough blood and there was no need to take new risks but that argument doesn’t seem strong anymore.”

On the matter of patient health, Varadkar said, “It’s the person who gets the blood or blood product who takes the risk, not the person who donates. We always have to remember that. But, looking at other countries, it does seem that the most recent science supports a change of approach.”

A Blood Donation Deferral Surveillance Group has been established by the Department of Health, and this Group will assess the blood donor deferral policy and report its findings to the Minister.

The Group prompted an update by the Canadian Blood Service, in which the deferral period for MSM was reduced from twelve to three months, according to documents that were released under the Freedom of Information Act.

A Department of Health spokesperson said, “IBTS constantly keeps all deferral policies under active review, in the light of scientific evidence, emerging infections and international evidence, to ensure the ongoing safety of blood and the products derived from it.

“The IBTS established an independent ‘Advisory Committee for Social Behaviours Review’ to review the evidence base for donor selection, deferral and exclusion in Ireland in relation to social behaviours that may increase the risk of acquiring specific blood-borne infections. The Department will be engaging with the IBTS in relation to this work.”

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