Reducing health inequalities for older LGBTQ+ people

Older LGBTQ+ people have low expectations of health and social care as they age, and fears about facing further discrimination, says Ben Thomas 

Older LGBTQ+ people have low expectations of health and social care as they age, and fears about facing further discrimination, says Ben Thomas 

Some LGBTQ+ people have historically lacked confidence and trust in health professionals. Picture: IStock

I recently visited the LGBTQ+ history exhibition Speak Out London – Diversity City.

This fantastic collection of stories, documents and photographs from LGBTQ+ Londoners provided a reminder of how far we have come in my lifetime in reducing stigma, prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. 

Like society in general, nursing has moved with the times. Nurses know it is illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their sexual orientation, or for being or becoming a transgender person, and we know we should always treat people with dignity, recognising diversity and individual choice.

Invisible patients 

But LGBTQ+ people still experience a number of health inequalities and disparities, especially the older generation.

A report from the Care Quality Commission earlier this year found that discrimination continues to have an adverse effect on LGBTQ+ people’s access, needs and experience of services. There is a growing body of evidence showing that LGBTQ+ people are often invisible in service provision. 

Historically, many older people felt unable to be open about their sexuality, and some lacked confidence and trust in health professionals, even believing they would harm them. 

Support available 

Those members of the LGBTQ+ community who were the first to ‘come out’ are now of an age where they need to consider older age health and social care, and there has never been a more crucial time to address inequalities. 

Opening Doors London is a charity providing information and support services for older LGBTQ+ people in the UK.

It aims to develop services that combat isolation, promote independence and well-being, and ensure dignity and self-esteem in the over 50s, through regular social activities, a telephone advice and signposting service and a befriending scheme. 

Individual needs

It also provides information, guidance and training for other service providers to help them develop appropriate and inclusive services for older LGBTQ+ people. 

Nurses must do all they can to eliminate discrimination and advance equality when caring for older LGBTQ+ people, including following current guidelines and undergoing training if required. 

We all have a part to play in reducing variation in the nursing care of LGBTQ+ people, and provide them with accessible, competent, quality care in a supportive health system.

About the author 

Ben Thomas is mental health, learning disability and dementia care professional officer at the Department of Health 

Find out more about the work of Opening Doors London here

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