Gay rights campaigners have backed an UK National Health Serivce (NHS) policy demanding that doctors and nurses start asking all patients from the age of 16 about their sexual orientation. The Guardian reports that NHS England has issued a new standard requiring staff to “record sexual orientation at every face to face contact with the patient, where no record of this data already exists”.
It argues that the data is needed to ensure it meets its obligations under the 2010 Equality Act and will help it better tackle health problems that are more prevalent among lesbian, gay and bisexual people. These include sexually transmitted diseases, mental health problems, alcohol and drug dependency and social isolation in old age.
The report says patients are not obliged to answer, but Conservative politicians including Jacob Rees-Mogg and the former children and families minister Tim Loughton have attacked the measure respectively as “intrusive and Orwellian” and “political correctness … gone bonkers”.
The policy does not include monitoring gender or gender identity, such as transgender. Instead, GPs, nurses and other health and adult social care staff are being told to ask: “Which of the following options best describes how you think of yourself?” The options are heterosexual or straight, gay or lesbian, bisexual, other, and don’t know or not sure. Other can include asexual or “queer”, a term the NHS says defines “a complex set of sexual behaviours and desires, or to make a statement against categories such as lesbian, gay, bisexual or straight”. If patients decline to answer that will also be recorded.
The report says the NHS wants all health and social care bodies to be asking the question by April 2019.
Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, welcomed the new system and said it was “vital sexual orientation is considered in health assessments”. “We have been calling for sexual orientation to be considered as other protected characteristics for over a decade,” a spokesperson said. “This move will also help health services gather evidence on and understand the needs of LGB people. This is something that NHS trusts are keen to implement as health services will be able to identify gaps in provision and areas for improvement, before targeting services to meet these needs.”
The veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “The question is voluntary, but it would be useful for the NHS to know the size of the lesbian, gay and bisexual population in order to plan appropriate and tailored services. Quite rightly, the NHS keeps records on race and ethnicity to ensure there is not discrimination and better treatment for these minority groups. It seems entirely sensible to extend that principle to LGB.”
The libertarian thinker and BBC Radio 4 Moral Maze panellist Claire Fox was among those opposing the move. “The state has no business in our bedrooms,” she is quoted in the report as saying. “Tell a 16-year-old to define their sexuality and it immediately forces them into a box. The whole point of the sexual revolution was to remove the box.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “All health bodies and local authorities with responsibility for adult social care are required under the Equality Act to ensure that no patient is discriminated against.
“This information standard is designed to help NHS bodies be compliant with the law by consistently collecting, only where relevant, personal details of patients such as race, sex and sexual orientation. They do not have to do it in every area, people do not have to answer the questions and it will have no impact on the care they receive.”
The report says the “sexual orientation monitoring specification” document was published by the NHS earlier this month and was produced in conjunction with the charity the LGBT Foundation, which said “there is still a huge lack of evidence about LGBT people, our needs and experiences”.
[link url="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/15/patients-in-england-to-be-quizzed-over-their-sexuality"]The Guardian report[/link]