Doctors to quiz patients on their sexuality

Question time: LGBT leader Martin supports the move, whilst libertarian thinker Fox opposes it.

Is it intrusive for a doctor to ask about a patient’s sexuality? Doctors in England will soon ask patients aged 16 or over about their sexual orientation, under new NHS guidelines.

From April 2019 onwards, patients over 16 may be asked by their doctor to pick from a range of options which they feel best describes their sexual orientation, newspapers reported yesterday.

Medics will be encouraged to ask about sexuality at “every face-to-face contact with the patient”, unless the information is already recorded.

Individual trusts can choose whether to follow the recommendations and no patient will be forced to answer the question, according to guidelines published on the NHS website earlier this month.

The NHS has stated that the move is part of an ongoing effort to ensure LGB people are treated fairly by public services. Public bodies have a legal obligation to pay “due regard” to the specific needs of the LGB community, according to the 2010 Equality Act.

“The NHS keeps records on race and ethnicity to ensure there is not discrimination... it seems entirely sensible to extend that principle to LGB,” says gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Non-heterosexual people suffer disproportionately from some health problems. The LGBT Foundation states that only 8% of LGB people in Greater Manchester have never had a mental health issue. LGB people are also twice as likely to commit suicide as heterosexual people.

“It's vital sexual orientation is considered in health assessments,” says a spokesperson for Stonewall. “It can help GPs and other staff identify and recognise the unique health issues lesbian, gay and bi people may face.”

But some think that the recommendations are an invasion of privacy. “The state has got no business in our bedrooms,” says Claire Fox, a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze.

Others are concerned that asking the question will cause offence, particularly amongst older patients. Meanwhile, young people could find it “embarrassing and difficult”.

What’s more, some doubt that the recommendations will even have any effect. “The majority of people do not have face-to-face contact with NHS professionals in a given year,” The Sunday Times said yesterday.

Privacy matters

Paul Martin, chief executive of Manchester’s LGBT Foundation, thinks the new guidelines are a “hugely important step in the right direction”. The NHS deserves praise for recognising the inequalities faced by LGB people in healthcare. Everyone should receive the same quality of medical care, regardless of their sexuality.

“It sounds intrusive and Orwellian,” says the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. Doctors do not need to know our sexuality for the vast majority of medical conditions. If GPs really needed to know, then surely they would ask. These guidelines represent another step on the path to the state knowing everything about us.

You Decide

  1. Do the positives of the new guidelines outweigh the negatives?
  2. Is privacy dead?

Activities

  1. Write a short speech (200 words) either supporting or condemning the guidelines. Present it to your class.
  2. Research and create a timeline of the history of the NHS. Once you have done your own, come together as a class to create one big timeline.

Some People Say...

“You already have zero privacy — get over it.”

Scott McNealy, American businessman

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of nine “protected characteristics,” outlined in the 2010 Equality Act. These include your age, gender, marital status, race and sexuality. These apply in areas such as the workplace, education and public services (like healthcare).
What do we not know?
Although the NHS recommends that doctors ask their patients about their sexuality, we do not know how many of them actually will do so. Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of the Family Doctor Association, points out that appointments only last for around eight minutes, so medics may struggle to find the time to discuss sexuality if it is not directly relevant.

Word Watch

Options
Patients can choose from: heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual, other, unknown. Alternatively, they can decline to respond altogether.
Trusts
An NHS trust is part of the broader National Health Service. It might serve a particular geographic area, or it might have a particular specialism.
LGB
According to the latest data from Public Health England, there are 1.3m lesbian, gay and bisexual people in England, making up 2.5% of the population.
2010 Equality Act
The act brought together more than 100 pieces of legislation concerning issues including gender, sexuality and racial equality.
Stonewall
The LGBT rights charity would like to see the NHS take their new guidelines further to introduce a similar monitoring service for transgender and non-binary patients too.
Orwellian
George Orwell’s novel 1984 describes a world where the government knows everything about its citizens and no one has any privacy.

Subjects

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