Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt “absolutely wanted” Northern Ireland to lift its lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood, his spokeswoman has said.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has reiterated criticism made earlier in the week that it was wrong of Mr Hunt to appeal a 2013 court ruling requiring the Health Secretary to decide if Northern Ireland should continue with its lifetime ban.

The London Evening Standard reports Mr Burnham said: “Northern Ireland benefits from blood donated from all over the UK and the Health Secretary should be pointing out that they should be grateful for these donations.”

In response, a spokeswoman for Mr Hunt said he “absolutely wanted” Northern Ireland to lift the ban, but that it had to be a decision for the province’s devolved administration.

In 2011, England, Wales and Scotland introduced a one-year deferral for gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood.

They can donate – providing they refrain from having sex with men for 12 months or longer.

However, Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and known his anti-gay views, decided to retain the lifetime ban in Northern Ireland, despite widespread criticism from health experts, fellow politicians, and LGBT campaigners.

UK Government sources have told PinkNews.co.uk that overruling Mr Poots could spark a new crisis with Northern Ireland DUP First Minister Peter Robinson – hence why they are appealing last year’s ruling by the High Court in Belfast.