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NHS doctors to start asking patients about their sexuality

Katharine Swindells October 15, 2017
The NHS Highland health board has apologised for the HIV data leak. File photo

The NHS Highland health board has apologised for the HIV data leak. File photo. (Graeme Robertson/Getty)

Newly released NHS guidelines have shown that from April 2019 health professionals will be told to ask patients about their sexuality if they are aged 16 or over.

Patients will be asked “Which of the following options best describes how you think of yourself?” with the available responses: ‘Heterosexual or Straight,’ ‘Gay or Lesbian,’ ‘Bisexual,’ and ‘Other.’

Patients will be allowed to decline to answer, which the guideline says “is their right,” in which case their answer would be recorded as ‘not stated.’

There is also a response option for ‘don’t know.’

Related: NHS trial of HIV-preventing drugs for gay men begins

The guide applies to doctors and nurses, as well as local councils that are responsible adult social care.

It advises the question be asked at “every face to face contact with the patient, where no record of this data already exists.”

NHS England said its hope was that by recording the data it could “ensure that no patient is discriminated against,” as health bodies are required to under the Equality Act.

A spokeswoman said collecting the data would “have no impact on the care [people] receive,” other than helping to make sure patients are being treated equally.

Paul Martin, chief executive of Manchester’s LGBT Foundation, one of the organisations that worked with NHS England on this guide said it was “hugely important step in the right direction.”

NHS England said that, considering the way LGB+ people are disproportionately affected by health inequalities such as mental illness, this data would allow them to “better understand, respond to and improve LGB patients’ service access.”

Related: NHS Scotland faces accusations of being transphobic as it limits access to chest surgeries

A spokesperson from the LGBT rights group Stonewall said: “It’s vital sexual orientation is considered in health assessments. It can help GPs and other staff identify and recognise the unique health issues lesbian, gay and bi people may face.”

They added that they would encourage NHS England to consider introducing similar guidelines for trans and non-binary patients.

However there has been backlash, with Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg saying the question sounded “intrusive and Orwellian.”

Dr Peter Swinyard, Chairman of the Family Doctor Association told the BBC that the question didn’t need to be asked if it was irrelevant.

He said that, particularly in cases with older patients, sexuality often “doesn’t affect health outcomes or care”.

He also told the Daily Mail he thought it was “confounded cheek,” to institute this question, with risks of GPs becoming “state apparatchiks.”

More: data collection, doctor, Health, lgb, NHS, NHS England, survey

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