The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) will soon be starting to assess donor eligibility on a person-by-person basis for declared lifestyle choices; instead of applying across-the-board restrictions which have previously excluded potential donors. Using a donor’s individual experiences to determine whether that person is eligible to donate makes the process fairer for all donors and means more people will be able to give blood than ever before.
It also means all donors will be asked the same questions – regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
These changes to the way UK blood services assess the risk of transfusion transmitted infections incorporate the key recommendations of the 2020 FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) Report. The recommendations were designed by epidemiology, sexual health and infectious disease experts to make sure we keep the blood supply safe while making blood donation fairer and more accessible to all. NIBTS are working in collaboration with Rainbow Project to ensure all those eligible to donate blood can do so safely.
The new FAIR risk assessment will be implemented in England, Scotland and Wales will come into effect on 14th June 2021, while in Northern Ireland the change won’t come into effect until September 2021.
Best Available Medical Evidence
Speaking about the change, Director of The Rainbow Project John O’Doherty said: “We welcome the implementation of the Fair Report and the new rules surrounding blood donations. These changes mean a large number of people who have never been able to donate blood will be eligible to do so. We would like to thank the Health Minister, Robin Swann, for ensuring that decisions related to blood donations are based wholly on the best available medical evidence and that policies are implemented on a UK wide basis.
“This is an issue we have been campaigning on for over 10 years including the implementation of an individualised risk assessment. During that time, we have been clear that donating blood is not a right, but a civic responsibility on all of us who are eligible to do so. The focus of The Rainbow Project will now turn to encouraging all those people who are now eligible to register as blood donors. Security and sustainability in our blood supply is a continued pressure across our health service – and while vocal and visible support for the NHS during the pandemic is to be welcomed – one of the most effective ways we can support our NHS is through donating blood.
“While we are disappointed that Northern Ireland will not be implementing the new assessment at the same time as the rest of the UK, we understand the reasons behind this and welcome the ongoing communication from the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service and their commitment to ensuring staff are trained on the use of the new assessment process. The COVID 19 pandemic has had a huge impact on all aspects of our health service. Rather than spending the next 3 months condemning the Blood Transfusion Service, we will be directing our resources towards supporting the implementation of the new system and encouraging all those who are eligible to donate blood.
Mental Health Champion of Northern Ireland Appointed
Following a recent external recruitment process, Health Minister Robin Swann has appointed Professor Siobhan O’Neill as the Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland.
Professor O’Neill is the current Interim Mental Health Champion and Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University. She is one of Northern Ireland’s leading experts in the field of mental health, known for her active and passionate involvement in suicide prevention.
Making the announcement Minister Swann said: “The mental health and wellbeing of our population is a priority which has been further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Appointing a Mental Health Champion is another key step to ensuring those suffering from mental ill health will have access to the services they need, when they need them. I am delighted that Professor O’Neill has agreed to continue her crucial work that she started as Interim Mental Health Champion.”
During her time as Interim Mental Health Champion, Professor O’Neill has been an advocate for mental health at both public and governmental levels. She led a mental health and wellness campaign throughout the winter pandemic restrictions and has been an advisor to the Department of Health and Executive colleagues on the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minister continued: “I recently announced a new 10-year Mental Health Strategy setting out the future strategic direction of mental health services in Northern Ireland. I want to break down barriers and put individuals and their needs at the centre of what we do. The appointment of a long term Mental Health Champion underpins the provision of a voice for the most vulnerable in our society and across government now and in the future.”
Professor O’Neill said: “I am delighted to continue as the Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland, so that the voices of those who struggle with their mental health are heard, and that their voices influence policy and practice to ensure that good mental health and wellbeing is a priority across Government Departments.
“The 10-year Mental Health Strategy is a positive step in improving mental health services and demonstrates why mental health must be a key priority for Northern Ireland. I look forward to continuing my work with Minister Swann, the Executive, those with lived experience of mental ill health and those who provide services on the ground, to ensure that the actions laid out in the strategy are delivered to help Northern Ireland to flourish as we recover from the current pandemic and into the future.”
Grants for Groups Supporting Carers Announced
Health Minister Robin Swann has announced the allocation of the first tranche of grants to organisations providing vital support for carers.
Almost £600,000 of the £4.4m Support for Carers Fund has been awarded to groups across Northern Ireland. It’s part of a £24m package of funding made available in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support carers, cancer charities and mental health organisations.
Following assessment, 16 applications have been successful in securing funding which will see a total allocation of £594,921 from this round of funding. The activities being funded include provision of practical support, wellbeing events, respite, advocacy support and work to address isolation and loneliness. Projects cover both adult and young carers.
The Health Minister said: “I want to pay tribute to the many thousands of people in Northern Ireland who help to look after a family member or friend without financial reward. Put simply, the health service could not cope without them, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when their role was absolutely vital.
“When I launched the Support for Carers Fund earlier this year my focus was to support projects delivering on the ground to make a real difference to individual carers. I have therefore been pleased to hear of some of the practical supports that the Fund will allow through this first set of awards.
“The awards that have been confirmed are only the first tranche of the overall funding pot of more than £4m. This represents a very significant financial investment and I look forward to seeing how it brings about a sustained improvement in the lives and experiences of individual carers in the coming months and years.”
The Fund is being administered and managed by the Community Foundation NI on behalf of the Department and aims to provide grant funding to organisations with charitable status that can deliver outcomes to improve the lives and experiences of carers.
Community Foundation Chief Executive, Roisin Woods said: “The Foundation is thrilled to be granting these monies to projects helping in the care sector. Like the Cancer Charities Support Fund, there was a massive response to the funding, which will provide almost over £600,000 to organisations supporting care groups locally. The funds will be available for three years, making an impact over a longer period of time, which we know will create a meaningful difference in the lives of many. A second round of grants to support carers will open in the New Year.
“We realise some projects will be disappointed today, and we would encourage them to bid if they can for the new round of funding and to really think about how they undertake their applications to ensure they meet the criteria for funding.”