Why the latest change to blood donor deferral policy is so important

Back in the 1980s the UK Governmentalong with a whole host of other countries introduced a lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men (MSM) in response to the emergence and fear created around the AIDS pandemic.

This blanket ban remained in place in Northern Ireland until as recently as 2016 when the then Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill reduced it to a one-year deferral. Having this policy in place for so long really did not help in the fight against stigma.

Yesterday’s announcement comes as welcome news after the movement away from the decades old policy. From summer 2021, MSM will no longer be automatically excluded from donating blood, provided they have been with the same partner for the previous three months.

It is great news that Minister Swann has acknowledged the medical advice on this issue and has made such an important decision. This policy represents a normalisation of approaches towards our MSM community with the health sector leading on this. This policy change will have big societal implications as we look to remove stigma around groups such as the MSM community. Blood donation is a really important process which can save and transform lives, and it’s great to see this very positive progress.  

This is a vital decision which will go some way to helping us as a society to chip away at the stigma which has been in place for too long.