Health experts have shared their ideas of how to improve the UK’s health care for LGBTI people admitting a ‘silver bullet’ won’t quickly fix the issues. They also said health care professionals need to learn that LGBTI health has more nuances beyond sexual health.
Those admissions came from a public session on how to improve health care access and experiences for LGBTI people.
‘Healthcare professionals might not understand LGBTI people have specific needs,’ said Sophie Meagher, policy officer, LGBT Foundation during Wednesday’s session.
Last year, the UK government ran a survey 108,000 LGBTI people which found some had experienced inappropriate questioning and curiosity from healthcare staff. Many said they felt stigma – real or perceived – because of their gender identity or sexuality. Others said they felt their specific needs are not taken into account.
The subsequent enquiry received more than 60 written evidence submissions. Those submissions provided a range of insights into the problems associated with LGBT people. Those included LGBTI people self-excluding from health and social care services or failing to access the support that they need due to poor experiences.
The Women and Equalities Committee headed by Conservative MP, Maria Miller, ran the first of about five sessions to further investigate how the NHS (National Health Service) could improve its services for LGBTI people.
A number of MPs sit on the committee but only Miller, Labour’s Tonia Antoniazzi and Jess Phillips, and Conservative Philip Davies.
‘It really is great to have people here who have never done this before,’ Miller told the four witnesses.
The witnesses included; Professor Carrie Llewellyn from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Wendy Irwin, Head of Equality and Diversity, Royal College of Nursing, Dr Duncan Shrewsbury, Local medical director, Practice Plus Brighton and Meagher.
Wednesday’s session focused on how frontline health care services could be more inclusive to LGBTI people.
Sexual health is not the entirety of LGBTI health
Irwin reiterated that nurses most likely were not openly homophobic but could have unconscious bias. She said there may be a tendency to have heteronormative expectations of patients.
‘When they see the person, nurses aren’t give the time (to be more nurturing),’ she said.
‘Systemically there are things nurses could do, but structurally it prevents them.’
Meagher suggested healthcare practitioners should always record or ask a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
‘Always ask their trans status and sexuality, it may or may not be relevant,’ Meagher said.
‘Healthcare professionals say we treat everyone the same, but they don’t understand the barriers LGBTI people face. They don’t see beyond HIV and sexual health.’
When MP Phillips asked for feedback about the public health messaging for LGBTI people, all witnesses agreed it was dominated with messages about sexual health.
‘LGBTI health goes beyond sexual health,’ Meagher said.
Meagher responded with an anecdote about an older person. That person had dementia and had forgotten they had transitioned, which led healthcare staff to misgender them.
How to fix the problem
Shrewsbury admitted he felt nervous giving testimony, but understood it was important.
‘It was nothing short of terrifying,’ he told Gay Star News.
‘We do have a responsibility, I’m responsible for leading and developing general practice services where I work and through that I came into contact with the issues that our community face, and I have a responsibility to voice that.’
Irwin was a lot more blunt in her closing remarks to the session. When Miller asked ‘it sounds like we’re starting in the foothills on this?’, Irwin said it would take a lot of work.
‘I was speaking with a friend about it and she asked if this was the “silver bullet” that would fix and I told her “holster your weapon”,’ Irwin told the committee.
‘We have to be in this for the long haul.’