Northern Ireland news

Historic 'first donation' since relaxation of Northern Ireland's controversial gay blood restrictions

Stevin Maginn talks to the Irish News ahead of giving blood for the first time. Picture by Hugh Russell.

A 28-year-old man will today make history with what is thought to be the first blood donation since the relaxation of Northern Ireland's controversial gay blood restrictions earlier this month.

From June 1, gay and bisexual men are able to donate blood three months after their last sexual activity, in line with the rest of the UK which adopted the limit in 2017.

Northern Ireland had carried on a 1980s-era ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men until 2016, when then Sinn Féin health minister Michelle O'Neill allowed blood to be given a year after their last male-to-male sexual encounter.

The blanket ban, a response to the AIDS crisis, had been changed in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011, but successive DUP health ministers had refused lift it.

However, the one-year period of abstinence meant men in long-term monogamous relationships were still effectively barred from donating blood.

Stevie Maginn from west Belfast has waited for over a decade to fulfil his ambition to help others with a donation.

"It is something I've thought about doing for years and I'm already on a register to donate spinal fluid for stem cell donation and organ donation and stuff.

"I would have like to have done it before and there has been movement with Appeal Court rulings and since 2016 when Michelle O'Neill changed it to one year, but it was when (Health Minister) Robin Swann changed it to three months in line with the rest of the UK that it can really happen."

Fate, in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, has also played a part in Mr Maginn's donation with his enforced separation form his partner due to lockdown restrictions.

"I'm in a long-term monogamous relationship but we haven't seen each other since lockdown as I'm isolating with my parents.

"It meant whenever the announcement came I was able to give blood quite quickly. I rang up and asked if they were aware of the change and they said that the were and made me an appointment."

Every blood donation was tested for HIV and a number of other organisms, although the Health Minister has warned "not even the most advanced tests are 100 per cent reliable, so it is vitally important for every donor to comply with any deferral rules that apply to them".

Mr Maginn is hoping that further changes will be brought in to allow him to donate without having to live through a deadly pandemic to do so.

"There needs to be a move towards a system based on donors' sexual activity. It is not just an equality issue - I could have been donating blood for years to help the health service - but it is the risk of heterosexual who are not engaging in safe sex and perhaps have multiple sexual partners.

"They are able to give blood, but I can't, despite being in a long-term monogamous relationship. We need to move to a system like Italy where the system is completely based on sexual behaviour and who is deemed risky."

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