New Guidelines propose all GPs ask patients their sexual orientation

26th Oct 2017

Under new proposals announced in October, Health professionals in England are to be told to ask patients aged 16 or over about their sexual orientation. The new NHS guidelines recommend health professionals, including GPs and nurses, ask about a person’s sexual orientation at “every face to face contact with the patient, where no record of this data already exists.”

NHS England said the data was already being collected in many areas but that the new guidance makes it standard, and that it expects sexual orientation monitoring to be in place across England by April 2019. They also stated that no-one would be forced to answer the question but recording the data would ensure that “no patient is discriminated against”. The guidelines will also apply to local councils responsible for adult social care.

The NHS has said that public bodies have a legal obligation to pay regard to the needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people under the Equality Act 2010, and need to ensure that no patients are discriminated against, stating that LGB people were “disproportionately affected” by health inequalities such as poor mental health and a higher risk of self-harm and suicide.

Under the guidance, health professionals are to ask patients: “Which of the following options best describes how you think of yourself?” The options include heterosexual or straight, gay or lesbian, bisexual, other sexual orientation, not sure, not stated and not known. If a patient does not want to disclose their sexuality, “not stated” would be recorded as their response.

Whilst some GPs feel such information may be beneficial, as a patient’s sexuality can potentially have an impact on some aspects of their healthcare, others feel it should be up to patients to decide to disclose the information. For this reason, many healthcare workers and GPs are not happy about the new guidelines saying they were ‘potentially intrusive’ and that many healthcare works would feel it was inappropriate to ask such questions when dealing with a patient. In addition, many patients will feel uncomfortable being asked such questions and feel it is an invasion of their privacy.

Many GPs have said they feel this invasion of privacy is unnecessary, as in most cases a person’s sexual orientation does not affect their treatment or treatment outcomes. Furthermore, many GPs have stated their concern that such personal questions, unrelated to the reason a patient has visited them, could affect the doctor-patient relationship; with the College of Medicine warning that many healthcare professionals will probably refuse to ask. Whilst in some cases the information could be of benefit many patients will just feel it is not the state’s business to know these things.

Rachel Kayani


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