LGBT Foundation’s Chief Executive Paul Martin OBE responds to the concerns around sexual orientation monitoring following last week’s coverage of the new NHS Information Standard.
If we’re not counted, we don’t count.
Every day LGBT people tell me about the healthcare inequalities they’ve faced and the struggles they have experienced to get the right care. That’s why I’m incredibly proud of the key role LGBT Foundation have played in calling for the NHS to publish an Information Standard for monitoring sexual orientation. It’s something we have worked hard to secure and genuinely see as a game changer in ensuring that health and social care providers can better meet the needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual people across England.
The launch of the Information Standard has recently attracted a lot of media attention and sparked lively debate. It’s also raised some genuine concerns, so we’re addressing those head on and making sure that people have all the facts.
You won’t be asked your sexual orientation every time you access healthcare services. When you are, it is likely to be at the same time as being asked other demographic information you are used to seeing, like your age or ethnicity.
When asked, you can always choose not to answer. In the same way you can leave a question about your ethnicity blank, you’re not obliged to answer. However, it’s important to remember that once you have provided an answer, this information may be stored on your patient record or file. If you do opt out, you won’t be outing yourself- there are lots of reasons for people not answering a question.
As with all personal information, your data will always be kept confidential, and stored securely. At no point has NHS patient data ever been compromised and the NHS never sells on patient data.
In practice, what it means is one question that will take just a few seconds to answer, will help the healthcare worker have a more complete understanding of you, ultimately giving LGBT people a better patient experience.
I recently changed my optician and was asked to fill in a questionnaire which included a question on my sexual orientation. The optician told me that there were a number of personal questions on the form and I should feel free to answer only the ones I was comfortable with. Having ticked the ‘gay’ and the ‘married’ boxes, when the optician later made small talk, she referred to my husband, which made me feel great.
So we want to say thank you to the GPs and healthcare staff already leading the way by collecting this information and allowing patients to have those upfront and honest conversations that results in us getting the best care. I couldn’t have put it better than Andrew who, when asked about his sexual orientation by his GP at a routine appointment told them- ‘thank you for asking- you finally realise I exist- and that’s important to me’.
More information on the LGBT Foundation can be found here.