New NHS guidelines will help LGBT+ patients

By Thomas Pymer

Disclosing your sexuality to your GP could soon be the norm. NHS England has announced a new move to help it better meet the standards of the 2010 Equality Act. Under new guidelines, GPs will be permitted to ask patients about their sexuality once they turn sixteen, allowing doctors to give coherent guidance on sexual health and tips for dealing with prejudice against sexualities or identities differing from the heteronormative binary style.

Under these guidelines, patients will be asked to express whether they are: heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, other, don’t know or are not sure. Transgenderism was not included in the review or new guidelines, as this move is intended to be exclusively focused upon giving sexual health advice.

The question patients shall be asked is: ‘Which of the following options best describes how you think of yourself?’ The open-ended ‘Other’ can cover a wide range of identifications, ranging from asexual to ‘queer’, which the 2017 NHS England Implementation Guidance publication defines as “a complex set of sexual behaviours or desires, or to make a statement against categories such as lesbian, gay, bisexual or straight.”

The state is not interfering with the lives of its citizens any more than usual

The new terms are designed to help GPs better classify, and therefore treat, those who suffer from health problems more prevalent among the LGBTQI+ community. These problems, as suggested by the research of the U.K.’s leading LGBT+ charity Stonewall in 2014, include mental health problems, STDs, alcohol dependency, and loneliness in old age.

NHS England’s move has inevitably attracted a lot of criticism. Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, known for opposing LGBT+ causes like gay marriage, has denounced the move as “Orwellian.” Some LGBT+ rights activists are also angry. As the libertarian thinker Claire Fox put it, ‘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’.

Other LGBT+ rights groups and campaigners, including Stonewall, have embraced the move. Veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell pointed out that the NHS keeps tabs on ethnic minorities to ensure that there is no discrimination being carried out. The same practice, he argues, should be applied to the LGBT+ community.

Whilst the libertarians do perhaps have a point about the difficulties of asking a young person to declare their sexuality (the average age of ‘coming out’ as LGBT+ in the UK is 21), the NHS has evidently anticipated this problem, hence the presence of an ‘I don’t know’ option. People retain the right not to answer the question, so provision is made for those who do not know or would prefer not to say.

It is also significant that, under the Hippocratic Oath, doctors are not allowed to divulge any information without their consent of their patients. By implementing the new health guidelines, the state is not interfering with the lives of its citizens any more than usual.

Knowing that they have an impartial source they can trust might help to alleviate their psychological insecurity.

This information, naturally, is not going to be perfect. Some people may be in denial about their sexualities or afraid of the possible consequences. But, for these arguably most vulnerable individuals, knowing that they have an impartial source they can trust might help to alleviate their psychological insecurity.

The new questionnaire might well therefore develop an even deeper doctor-patient relationship, which is something we should certainly strive for. Overall then, the guidelines can and will do a lot of good among the LGBTQ+ population of this country.

Photograph: Ted Eytan via Flickr and Creative Commons

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