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Gay and bisexual men can donate blood more easily under new rules being introduced in Northern Ireland.

Health Secretary Robin Swann announced “further changes to the rules on deferring blood donations to allow more people to donate blood”.

The move means men in a relationship with another man can now donate blood after being in that relationship for more than three months, instead of a year.

The minister said his decision was “based on expert advice from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) after consideration of a report by the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualized Risk) steering group.

The “key recommendation” that Northern Ireland’s Health Secretary has decided to implement is the introduction of an “individual behaviour-based risk assessment” which will allow some men in gay and bisexual relationships to donate blood “if they ‘ has a sex partner who has been her partner for three months.”

Robin Swann said: “I am delighted to be making this change to the donor deferral policy in Northern Ireland, which means that MSM [men who have sex with men] in longer-term partnerships are no longer automatically excluded from donating blood if they have been with the same partner for the past three months and meet the revised medical criteria.

“I want more people to be able to donate blood, but as Health Secretary it is my responsibility to ensure the safety of donated blood. I can assure you that my decision is based solely on the science and advice of the experts at SaBTO, whose core business is to minimize blood health risks.

“My decision to reduce the MSM deferral period earlier this year from 12 months to three months was based on the advice of SaBTO and I am happy to once again accept their expert advice on the matter. SaBTO has assured that regular monitoring of the residual risk of blood borne infections will continue as normal to ensure that there is no impact on the safe blood supply of patients.

The minister added: “Although all blood donations are tested for blood-borne infections, it is still of the utmost importance that all potential donors answer the evaluation questions honestly and comply with any deferral rules that apply to them.”

Karin Jackson, chief executive of the NI Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS), said the introduction of new donor health screening questions “will help us identify lower risk MSM who are eligible to donate blood.”

She added: “I am delighted that the Health Secretary for Northern Ireland has been able to make this announcement alongside the Health Ministers of England, Scotland and Wales. This change will allow as many people as possible to donate blood while ensuring patient safety.”

Campaign group Rainbow Project welcomed the announcement.

Director John O’Doherty said: “This is an incredibly important and welcome announcement from the Department of Health. For over 12 years, The Rainbow Project has worked to remove the irrational and discriminatory barriers to gay and bisexual blood donation and we would like to thank Robin Swann for consulting with experts on the issue and the evidence followed in making this decision.

“It has been a difficult year, but one that has reminded us of our public duty to protect and support each other. Donating blood is not a right, it is a public duty and we encourage anyone who is able to donate blood. For many years Northern Ireland was behind other UK jurisdictions in this area and we are now leaders.

“If anyone is concerned about these changes to blood donation rules, they should know that this policy has been endorsed by the SaBTO, who have confirmed it will not adversely affect the safe supply of blood.”

In response to the rise of AIDS, a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood was introduced in Britain and many other countries in the 1980s.

In 2011, after reviewing the scientific evidence, a one-year delay was introduced. However, in Northern Ireland the lifetime ban remained until 2016. This was supported by the DUP health ministers and challenged in the High Court.