The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) remit is to provide a safe, reliable, robust blood service to the Irish health system. Blood, and the products derived from it, are an integral facet of health care delivery. A major objective of the organisation is to ensure that it always has the necessary programmes and procedures in place to protect both the donors of blood and recipients of blood and blood products.
The EU Directive on quality and safety of blood requires that "all necessary measures have been taken to safeguard the health of individuals who are recipients of blood and blood components". The permanent deferral of men who have sex with men [MSM] of whom a significant majority consider themselves to be gay by the IBTS, is an important safety measure for blood transfusion. The decision is not based on sexuality or orientation, but because it is known that there is an increased level of HIV infection rates in MSM in Ireland.
Testing for HIV remains very sensitive and effective but there remains a period between infection and detection that could permit the transmission to a recipient. The medical literature contains well documented examples in the immediate past. Although no transfusion transmitted infection anywhere is ever acceptable, in Ireland this is considered to be especially so given past experience. The IBTS works closely with other blood services in Europe and America where this permanent deferral is retained. Indeed, almost no developed country has no deferral period, and will all exclude sexually active gay men from donation.
The UK modified their exclusion criteria to introduce a finite 12 month deferral for MSM behaviour in 2011. Since then the IBTS has reviewed formally its position and this has been ratified by its Medical Advisory Committee and Board. With regard to supply, there is a clear distinction to be made between transfusion safety and blood supply. Safety cannot be compromised by supply concerns. In addition, the number of donations likely to be obtained from MSM is unlikely to resolve any supply issues.