LGBT people are being let down by badly designed health and social care services
A lack of understanding among medical professionals contributes to poorer health outcomes for LGBT people. Action is needed to improve inclusivity, writes Maria Miller MP
“Another professional said they don’t want to treat people like me.” Some of the shocking words I heard at an outreach event held by the Women and Equalities Committee, which I chair, at the start of our inquiry into health and social care and LGBT communities.
We launched our inquiry in August 2018. The report containing the committee’s findings and recommendations to the Government was published on 22 October 2019.
The inquiry received 80 pieces of evidence from individuals, medical and social care professionals, organisations and researchers.
A private informal meeting with service users and five evidence sessions allowed the committee to hear from more than 30 people about the provision of health and social care services to LGBT people and explore the views of those using, providing and commissioning services.
Throughout the inquiry, we heard from LGBT people of all genders and all ages that the NHS and social care services were not always treating them with respect or understanding.
Experiences like the one described above are distressing for the individuals concerned, but could also contribute to poorer health outcomes for LGBT people.
Our inquiry looked into why LGBT people are receiving less-favourable treatment in the NHS and social care services, and what we found shocked us.
There seems to be a lot of goodwill among healthcare professionals (although some do discriminate) but there seems to be a lack of understanding of the needs of LGBT people and, crucially, a lack of leadership on making things better.
One of our key findings during the inquiry was that better understanding of the real needs of LGBT people is necessary in order for health and social care professionals to truly deliver the care that is required.
LGBT people need to be treated equally, but not identically, to other groups. Access to the same services as others is ineffective if that service is structured only for people who are heterosexual and cisgender, and has limited flexibility.
Issues of training were raised with us again and again throughout the time that we have been doing this work. It’s not good enough when a GP says that they can’t help because they don’t know anything about LGBT issues, or when a mental health professional believes that all mental health problems stem from a person being gay.
Training of medical professionals on the needs of LGBT people needs to start early and it needs to be specific. So we have recommended that registration bodies re-examine the training that they oversee and make this change happen.
The Government has made a positive start to tackling health inequality through the LGBT Action Plan and other measures, but the Action Plan was published over a year ago and now the focus must be on delivering real improvements and eliminating health disparities. We are calling on the Government to be clear about how it is going to do this.
During out inquiry we heard many examples of good ideas and good practice but they are not as widespread as they should be.
I hope my committee’s report will be a clarion call to Government and the NHS and social care sectors to take up the work that some very dedicated and inventive individuals have already begun, and ensure that there is a consistently high standard of care and dignity for everyone.
Maria Miller is Conservative MP for Basingstoke and chair of the Women and Equalities Committee