Irish Blood Transfusion Service

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The corporate logo incorporates a stylised pelican, as well as the name of the service.

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS), or Seirbhís Fuilaistriúcháin na hÉireann in Irish, was established in Ireland as the Blood Transfusion Service Board (BTSB) by the Blood Transfusion Service Board (Establishment) Order, 1965.[1] It took its current name in April 2000 by Statutory Instrument issued by the Minister for Health and Children to whom it is responsible. The Service provides blood and blood products for humans.


The service is the successor to the National Blood Transfusion Association which was established in 1948 and was, itself, born from the work carried out by the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland in setting up an 'on call' blood donor panel[2] to serve hospitals in the Dublin area. In 1975 the Cork Blood Transfusion Service was amalgamated with the board, and in 1991 the Limerick Blood Transfusion Service was amalgamated with the board.

The symbol of the service is a stylised pelican, and for most of its existence the headquarters of the service was located at Pelican House (first in Lower Leeson Street and then Mespil Road) in Dublin. In 2000 the service moved to the National Blood Centre on the grounds of St. James's Hospital near Dublin Heuston railway station, on which it remains. The service maintains regional facilities at Ardee, Carlow, Cork, Limerick and Tuam.

The Compensation Tribunal[edit]

Between 1977 and 1994 a number of people unknowingly received Hepatitis C-infected blood, and clear evidence of this did not become available until the mid-1990s. Most of those infected by the blood were women. The Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal was established by the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Act, 1997, and amended by the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal (Amendment) Act, 2002, to compensate people who contracted Hepatitis C or HIV as a result of receiving blood or blood products from the Service.

About blood[edit]

The frequency of blood groups in Ireland is as follows:[3]

O Positive 47% O Negative 8% A Positive 28% A Negative 5%
B Positive 9% B Negative 2% AB Positive 2% AB Negative 1%

It is important that the IBTS collects enough O Rh D positive blood as almost half the population are that blood type. Donors with O Rh D negative are known as universal donors. Their blood can be transfused to patients of any other blood group in an emergency or if the patient's own blood group is unavailable. Because any patient can receive O Rh D negative blood, the IBTS need to have extra O Rh D negative blood available at all times.

Eligibility to donate[edit]

The service depends entirely on voluntary donations from the public. New donors must be aged between 18 and 64, weigh over 50 kilograms (7 stone 12 lbs), and be in good health. At every donation haemoglobin levels are checked and donors complete a detailed health and lifestyle questionnaire. Donors can give blood every 90 days.

The IBTS imposes a number of restrictions on those who can give blood. These comply with those of the European Union, World Health Organisation, and the Irish Medicines Board, and are similar to other countries. These restrictions ensure that blood products are safe for recipients. A four-month restriction is placed on donors who have had piercings or tattoos or had acupuncture, and a similar restriction on anyone who has visited a tropical area (three months). There is a year-long deferral for those who have visited a malarial area. Donors who have travelled to the United States or Canada have to wait for four weeks before donating due to spread of the West Nile Virus there. Certain medications or conditions can also exclude people from donation.

Additionally, there are groups of people who are barred from donating blood based on their membership of high-risk groups. This includes people who have lived for a year or more in the United Kingdom (UK) between the years 1980–1996 and those who received medical procedures in the UK since 1 January 1980, due to the risk of variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (vCJD) in that country. vCJD has a long incubation period and no laboratory test can detect it. People who have ever been injected with any kind of non-prescription drug, and anyone who have ever been paid for sex with money or drugs are also permanently barred from donating blood.

Ban on men who have sex with men[edit]

Men who have sex with men (MSM) may donate blood if they have not engaged in oral or anal sex with another man at least 12 months prior to a donation. This policy came into effect from 16 January 2017.

The IBTS "accepts that they are being discriminatory; we discriminate against several groups in the community insofar as we refuse to allow them to donate blood on the basis of perceived increased risk of spreading infections through blood transfusion".[4] Several campaigns have been launched in an effort to reverse the ban.[5][6] Gay Doctors Ireland denounced the ban as "unscientific" and outdated.[7]

On 27 July 2015, Tomás Heneghan, a 23-year-old University of Limerick student and journalist from Galway began a legal challenge in the High Court against the permanent deferral imposed on MSM donors.[8][9] He argued that the questionnaire and interview process used by the IBTS does not adequately assess the risk of disease transmission posed by his donation. He claimed this is in breach of EU law. He said that both failed to consider the length of time between a donor's last sexual experience and the end of a “window period” in which infections are sometimes not detected. Heneghan's previous sexual activity posed no risk of infection, according to HSE-approved advice and he said the service had no evidence upon which it could legitimately impose a lifelong ban on him donating blood.

Following several adjournments of the case to allow the blood service and Department of Health to examine and develop the donation policies, in late June 2016 the Irish Blood Transfusion Service recommended that the lifetime ban on MSM be reduced to a 12-month ban. Later that week the Minister for Health Simon Harris agreed to the recommendations and announced the reduction would take place. However no timeline was initially reported for the implementation of the new policies.[10]

On 26 July 2016 Heneghan dropped his High Court challenge against the service as an end to the lifetime deferral on MSM blood donors had been announced in the interim.[11] Heneghan then wrote about his experiences of challenging the ban in a number of national media outlets.[12][13] He also appeared on TV3's Ireland AM show to speak about his case.[14]

On 2 October 2016, it was reported that Minister Harris would implement the new policy from 16 January 2017, almost seven months after he announced the policy change.[15]

On 16 January 2017, Heneghan (now 25) attended a blood donation clinic in D'Olier Street, Dublin and became the first man who has had sex with another man to donate blood openly in the Republic of Ireland since the lifetime deferral policy was first introduced in the 1980s. However he also criticised the new 12 month deferral policy on MSM and called on Ireland's Health Minister to initiate a review of the IBTS and replace the 12 month deferral period for MSM with no deferral or a 3 month deferral on all donors following sexual intercourse.[16][17][18][19]

Previously in August 2013 Heneghan had alleged the Irish Blood Transfusion Service had discriminated against him despite his assertion that he had never had oral or anal sex with another man.[20]

Donor Awards[edit]

Donors are recognised for their commitment by being awarded as follows: A silver award is given for 10 donations; a gold award for 20 donations; a gold drop-shaped lapel pin (representing blood) for 50 donations, and presentation at an awards dinner ceremony; and a porcelain pelican for 100 donations, and presentation at an awards dinner ceremony.

Platelets and bone marrow[edit]

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service is also responsible for the collection of blood platelets and for managing the Unrelated Bone Marrow registry in Ireland. Donors can give platelets at the National Blood Centre in St James Hospital in Dublin or at St. Finbarr's Hospital in Cork. Donors can join the unrelated bone marrow registry through their local blood clinic by offering an extra blood sample and satisfying suitability criteria.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "S.I. No. 78/1965 – The Blood Transfusion Service Board (Establishment) Order, 1965". Retrieved 11 July 2010. 
  2. ^ Archived 3 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ "Irish Blood Transfusion Service – Irish Blood Group Type Frequency Distribution". Irish Blood Transfusion Service. Retrieved 7 November 2009. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "'End gay blood ban', plead students". 18 March 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2010. 
  6. ^ "Johnny : Blood Ban : Campaigns". 28 November 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2010. 
  7. ^ "Gay Doctors Ireland criticise blood transfusion ban". 4 May 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2010. [permanent dead link]
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "IBTS votes to end ban on gay men donating blood". Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  11. ^ "Gay man drops challenge to blood donation ban after change in policy announced by Health Minister -". Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  12. ^ "Tomás Heneghan on his High Court case: Why was I shaming the family? Why was my sex life being opened up to public scrutiny? -". Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  13. ^ Heneghan, Tomás. "'They openly debated what sort of sex I had': What it was like being at the centre of the blood-ban case". Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  14. ^ "Ireland AM - Friday, 29 July 2016". 3player. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Ring, Evelyn (17 January 2017). "Blood Transfusion Service finally lifts ban on gay men donating blood". Irish Examiner. 
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^

External links[edit]