Equal healthcare for all, regardless of sexual orientation

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release: Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Doctors are reminded of their duty to treat all patients equally, regardless of their sexuality.

Campaigners recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the first gay pride march in London and, despite much progress being made through the years regarding gay rights, a survey by the charity Stonewall revealed that gay and bisexual men may still be subject to discrimination when accessing healthcare.

The Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey showed that a staggering one third of gay and bisexual men who have accessed healthcare services in the last year have had a negative experience related to their sexuality.

UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS is urging doctors to treat patients equally and to be sensitive to the specific needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) patients.

“Any form of discrimination can have a serious impact on the care a patient receives,” says MDDUS medical adviser Dr Barry Parker. “All patients must be able to have complete trust in their doctor and deserve to be treated equally, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“Most professionals would no doubt recognise that discrimination in the form of direct criticism of a patient’s sexual orientation is completely unacceptable, but there are other more subtle forms of discrimination.

“These include false assumptions about a patient’s lifestyle on the basis of their sexuality, failure to offer certain services or refer appropriately, and mishandling of next-of-kin issues in same sex partnerships.”

LGB patients have the same needs as heterosexual patients, but there are also specific differences. These are not confined to the area of sexual health, but may include mental health issues arising as a result of the particular social stresses these patients face.

“LGB patients should be able to talk openly with their doctor about these issues,” adds Dr Parker. “There is evidence that some patients may delay or avoid seeking help because they fear that they will be judged if they disclose their sexuality.

“Clear policies on discrimination and confidentiality which are communicated to patients, for example, in a waiting-room poster or in practice leaflets, may promote trust and encourage LGB patients to be open about health concerns with their doctor. In addition, all staff are required to be trained appropriately to comply with the policies.’’

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for doctors to discriminate against LGB patients, while GMC guidance makes it clear that doctors “must never discriminate unfairly against patients. Nor must they allow their personal views about their patient’s sexual orientation to prejudice their assessment of their clinical needs or delay or restrict their access to care.”

Practices should also have appropriate policies in place to ensure equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual members of staff. “It’s not just patients who need to be treated fairly,” says MDDUS employment law adviser Janice Sibbald.

“Practices must have an up-to-date equal opportunities policy for employees. If a practice is challenged on any of its decision making, then it is necessary to have robust processes in place to justify decisions made and thus reduce risk of discrimination claims.

“All employees within the practice should be recruited based on their skills and not personal characteristics. The equal opportunities policy should cover all aspects of employment, from training and development to terms and conditions of work.”

Ends

For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email rihendry@mddus.com.

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to www.mddus.com.

For registration, or any login issues, please visit our login page.