‘Making assumptions about people’s sexuality hinders equal access to healthcare’

More training is needed to support nurses caring for LGBT people, says Marie Curie charity

More training is needed to support nurses caring for LGBT people, says Marie Curie charity

Picture: iStock

Nurses have been urged to avoid making assumptions that people are heterosexual, as MPs hear evidence of discrimination facing LGBT communities in accessing health services.

The Commons women and equalities committee heard from a range of organisations as part of its inquiry into health and social care provision for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans) people.

Evidence shows health outcomes are generally worse for LGBT people than for the rest of the population.

Evidence of inequitable care

A recent government survey of 108,000 LGBT people found:

  • Many had difficulties accessing healthcare services.
  • Some had experienced inappropriate questioning and curiosity from healthcare staff.
  • Many felt their specific needs are not taken into account in their care.

Marie Cure, the support service for people with terminal illness, said its own research found people who required palliative care at home were fearful about how nurses would respond to caring for someone who was LGBT.

A training need

Marie Curie head of policy and public affairs for England Scott Sinclair told Nursing Standard there needed to be more training available to nurses in providing care for LGBT people.

‘A really simple place to start is not to make assumptions that a patient is heterosexual,’ Mr Sinclair said.

‘Nobody means any harm when they ask a patient if they have kids, or ask a man if he has a wife, or a woman if she has a husband. But we found that people from LGBT+ communities often found this situation difficult. It forces people to either come out and correct the person asking the question, or pretend they are heterosexual.’

Language conveys attitude

Using more neutral language, such as ‘partner’, lets people know they can be open about who they are, he added.

‘For trans people in particular, it’s really important to respect the pronouns that people want to use, even if their medical records might be different,' Mr Sinclair added.

'The same goes for the person’s name – they might like to go by a different name than recorded and it is important to respect that. It’s always okay to ask what someone prefers.’

Macmillan Cancer Support told the committee that small symbols of inclusivity such as rainbow-coloured lanyards for staff, can improve LGBT patients’ experience of healthcare.

The committee will now consider all the evidence before publishing a final report and recommendations.

Further information

Read about the Health and social care and LGBT communities inquiry

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