Relaxation of rules for gay blood donors delayed in Northern Ireland

The new blood donor rules concerning men who have sex with men have been delayed in Northern Ireland due to a lack of staff and training resources.

gay blood donors: persons arm being prepped for blood donation

Changes to the rules concerning gay blood donors in Northern Ireland were proposed in December 2020. The relaxation of the rules were supposed to be implemented on Monday (June 14), World Blood Donor Day. These changes will still take place in Wales and England, but Northern Ireland is behind. 

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) says the delay is down to a lack of staff and training resources. Men who have sex with men wanting to donate will have to wait a few more months, as the changes will hopefully take effect on September 6th. 

In a conversation with Attitude Magazine, NIBTS’ Supply Chain Manager, Matt Gillespie, said it was regrettable that the changes can’t be implemented in Northern Ireland at the same time as the rest of the UK. 

Gillespie went on to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on blood donation services and that a lot of effort has gone into making sure the donors and staff are safe and complying with Covid rules. 

“Being the smallest of the UK blood services, NIBTS has less staff and has found it difficult to meet this challenge. This has meant less time being available for other projects including the implementation of the recommendations.” 

NIBTS chief executive Karin Jackson said a staff training programme was now being rolled out and the changes should be implemented “over summer months for new donors who meet new criteria.”

The UK government said the change makes the UK one of the first countries in the world to adopt a more individualised risk-based approach to donor selection criteria.

The Terrence Higgins Trust’s medical director, Dr Michael Brady, said: “Eligibility to donate blood will now be based on the behaviours identified as being at highest risk of infection, rather than gender or sexuality.

“This means the removal of the three-month deferral period for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Welcome changes include the differentiation between oral and anal sex, and for those whose partner is HIV positive and virally suppressed due to six months or more of adherence to treatment.”

The current restrictions in place in the UK prevent men who have sex with men from donating blood if they’ve been sexually active in the preceding three months. This rule is less restrictive than the rules in place here in the Republic; current Irish rules state that gay and bisexual men, who wish to be blood donors, need to abstain from sex with another man for a period of at least a year. 

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