Let's examine the evidence that led him to spunk one hundred thousand pounds of our money in a bid to make us healthier.
Background: In 1983, fear of a full-blown AIDS epidemic resulted in a panicked UK health authority banning all MSM (men who have sex with men) blood donations. This ban lasted almost 30 years, and was finally lifted in 2011 following detailed and exhaustive scientific studies into the risk posed by MSM blood donations. England, Scotland, and Wales all accept MSM blood donations following a 12 month deferral after the initial consultation. This 12 month period is a built-in safeguard to ensure that any early-stage blood-borne viruses not initially detected are picked up on screening one year later. HIV, for instance, has a seroconversion time of 2 to 12 weeks, therefore a 12 month deferral is a more than adequate buffer zone
Were a 12 month deferral to be introduced here, theoretical models from the UK (2), USA (3) and Canada (4) estimate that there would be a very slight increase in the risk of transmitting a blood-borne infection through transfusion of donated blood. For instance, the UK study calculates the risk to increase from 1 in 4,410,000 to 1 in 4,380,000 following introduction of the 12 month deferral of MSM.
So there's an (albeit tiny, not statistically significant) increase in risk?
Two further things must be considered.
Firstly, blood screening technology has improved exponentially in the past few years, and new techniques should reduce the risk levels, and may also negate any difference in risk levels between the pre- and post-deferral groups.
Secondly, a clinical study in Australia (4) has contradicted the findings of the UK, USA, and Canadian theoretical models. Blood donation data taken in Australia (a country with similar HIV infection rates to the UK) 5 years before and after the implementation of a 12 month deferral by the Australian government, showed that despite a 20% increase in donations following the introduction of deferral legislation, the total HIV detections were exactly the same (and in real terms, a rate reduction).
So what's Poots' problem?
Maybe it's that Northern Ireland doesn't need any more blood?
He certainly seemed to think so in October 2011 when he told a Commons health committee meeting (5)
"...Northern Ireland is largely self sufficient in blood. It is exceptional for us to receive blood from outside sources”
Either Poots was wilfully misleading Parliament, or he was unaware what was going on within his own department. For instance, only three months before his committee appearance Poots was urging people to give blood.
“In Northern Ireland, around 500 patients need life saving blood each week. To ensure an adequate supply to our hospitals, we need 300 people to give blood every day. The demand for blood is increasing all the time and currently only 6% of Northern Ireland’s eligible population gives blood. That means 94% of the population do not donate. I would urge everyone eligible across the province to consider becoming a donor."
"Ensuring there are sufficient levels of blood at all times is key to the safety of patients in Northern Ireland" as long as it fits within my personal prejudices, he didn't add.(6)
So in summary.
1) Despite overwhelming scientific evidence of its safety, Poots refuses to accept Northern Irish MSM blood donations.
2) In a time of austerity and NHS cutbacks, he is spending thousands of pounds of tax-payers' money to fight blood donation legislation implemented by the British government.
3) Despite telling parliament that Northern Ireland is "largely self sufficient in blood", his department is importing blood, ironically including that of MSM donors, from the rest of the UK.
In light of the scientific evidence we have just one question for Poots: Are you ignoring the advice of experts simply because you're a homophobe?
Please sign the online petition here.
6 Hansard of the DHSSPS Committee meeting (26/10/11)