Research released today from Stonewall Scotland – the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans equality charity – reveals that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people are facing unhealthy attitudes from health and social care professionals.
The YouGov research conducted for Stonewall, which surveyed 3,001 health and social care workers across Britain, found that an astonishing 9 per cent of health and social care workers directly involved in patient care in Scotland have witnessed colleagues expressing the belief that lesbian, gay and bisexual people can be ‘cured.’
The report, entitled Unhealthy Attitudes, also found workplace bullying to be commonplace in health and social work. Three in five (62 per cent) staff directly involved in patient care, who hear discriminatory remarks about lesbian, gay and bisexual people, do not report it. Trans people are also subject to discrimination, with negative remarks or offensive language such as ‘tranny’ and ‘she-male’ being heard by 19 per cent of health and social care staff from their colleagues, in the last five years. Nearly one in ten health and social care staff say they would not feel ‘comfortable’ working alongside a trans colleague.
Three in ten (29 per cent) of health and social care staff in Scotland have heard their colleagues make negative remarks about lesbian, gay or bisexual people, or use language like ‘poof’ or ‘dyke’ in the last five years. Worryingly, the research also found that one in eight (12 per cent) patient-facing staff in Scotland would not feel confident challenging colleagues who made negative remarks about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans patients or service users.
Public bodies have a legal duty to advance equality and eliminate discrimination. However, many staff say they have received little or no equality and diversity training, and some of those who were surveyed even questioned its relevance. More than three quarters (77 per cent) patient-facing staff have not received training on the health needs of LGB people, the rights of same-sex partners and parents, or how to use language that is inclusive. Fewer than one in five (18 per cent) health and social care practitioners in Scotland with direct responsibility for patient care said they received specific training on using appropriate language and inclusive practices for trans patients and service users.
Practitioners also showed a lack of awareness of the relevance of sexual orientation to healthcare needs, with three in five (61 per cent) of those with direct responsibility for patient care saying they don’t consider sexual orientation to be relevant to one’s health needs.
Unhealthy Attitudes also found that diversity remains an issue in some workplaces, with more than a third (37 per cent) of respondents saying they don’t have openly lesbian, gay, bisexual people in their workplace and only one in twenty (5 per cent) saying they have openly trans people at their workplace.
The scale of the problems being identified is perhaps best demonstrated by some of the quotes from respondents. Sally, an administrator, said: “Colleagues would use derogatory terms towards gay and transsexual people. It occurred regularly and I was alienated at work for having stated that I disagreed with these statements.” Doug, a nurse, claimed that “training is invariably online and pretty rubbish to be honest.” The need for better staff education was brought home by Eilidh, who is also a nurse. She explained: “I wasn’t aware that homosexual people had different care needs than everyone else. Surely the same illnesses affect them as everyone else? I think suggesting they have different health care needs is discrimination.”
Colin Macfarlane, the director of Stonewall Scotland, said: “Health and social care services have a duty to treat people fairly and equally. Yet, as this report shows, there are worrying gaps in knowledge and training relating to LGBT people. This is creating a healthcare system that treats both its LGBT patients and colleagues unfairly leading to inevitable ongoing health inequalities.
“Unhealthy Attitudes also contains some truly shocking revelations, such as evidence that high numbers of patient-facing staff witness colleagues stating their belief in a gay ‘cure’. This is incredibly harmful and dangerous and should be publicly denounced immediately.
“NHS Scotland advocates the value of person-centred care, where an understanding of the different aspects of a patient’s identity, and their families and loved ones, are considered central to providing the best possible care. Unfortunately this research demonstrates this is too often a long way from patients’ lived experience of healthcare services in Scotland. We are releasing this research to highlight the importance of investing in and committing to LGBT equality. We want to ensure that everyone, everywhere is accepted without exception.”
On the basis of the report, Stonewall Scotland is calling the Scottish Government to publicly condemn so-called ‘gay cure’ therapy and consider further steps for action to ensure the practice is unavailable as well as calling for health and social care leaders to communicate a clear message to staff that trying to ‘cure’ lesbian, gay and bisexual people is both harmful and dangerous. The charity is also calling for a highly visible anti-bullying and discrimination campaign across the NHS, as well as a prioritisation of fit-for-purpose training in health and social care organisations, medical schools and universities.
Stonewall currently works with a number of healthcare providers, NHS Boards and Trusts and social care organisations across Britain to deliver equality and diversity training.