A new report just published by the British Medical Association finds that both gay
and lesbian patients across Europe don't disclose their sexuality to doctors because
they fear their treatment will suffer. The report also says many gay doctors do not
come out to colleagues because they too fear the consequences. One doctor cited in the
study reported being told he should not work in child medicine because of his sexuality.
OutUK's Adrian Gillan has been looking at the report's findings and examining
what needs to be done.
"At least the BMA are starting to look at the issue," grants Dr Dan Saunders of GLADD,
the professional and social support group for LGB doctors and dentists, both student and
qualified. "However, it is everyone's responsibility to take a lead - including the GMC
(General Medical Council), NHS and Department of Health."
Much is at stake: not only the wellbeing of the UK's 120,000 doctors, 15,000 medical students
and the many 10,000s more in dentistry and nursing; but also the very wellbeing of the queer
nation - a recent Doctoring Gay Men report (Sigma Research, 2004) found only a quarter
(27.5%) of gay men in the UK were out to their GPs, a shock stat that hits our healthcare.
In this new report and at a recent national conference, the BMA recommend simple changes, such
as using gender neutral language when talking about a patient's partner, and not assuming
sexual health is the primary health need of gay patients would reduce feelings of discrimination.
The report calls for a series of measures including guidance on sexual orientation in equal
opportunities policies and a crack-down on incidents of homophobia. It also includes guidelines
for teaching medical students how to act in a non-judgemental way towards gay and lesbian colleagues
"Everyone has the right to be treated equally, regardless of their sexual orientation," Dr Vivienne
Nathanson, the BMA's Head of Science and Ethics, explains in the report.
"Doctors and patients should feel safe and confident when they are in hospitals and surgeries."
But GLADD member
Dr Justin Varney remains sceptical: "None of the powers that be are doing enough to combat homophobia,
not least the NHS - up to 10% of all doctors and patients are LGB and yet it has done next to nothing
to deal with the issue."
"I don't know of any cases brought under the new Employment Directive yet," rejoins fellow GLADD colleague
Dr Saunders ominously, "but it is only a matter of time. The majority of the NHS is still unaware of the recent
changes. We've been attempting to work with the Department of Health to encourage them to issue
appropriate guidance but this has not been forthcoming. The NHS is the largest employer in
Europe - it is potentially at the greatest risk from legal action."
Meantime, plucky little GLADD has issued its own guidelines highlighting the legal protection
now afforded to employees and the new responsibilities placed on employers. "However,"
continues Dr Saunders, "although our guidelines have been welcomed, there seems to be
a great deal of inertia when it come to implementing them."