The following information is specific to the Welsh context, legal powers, advice services and policy development.
The NHS in Wales provides primary and secondary healthcare services to thousands of people across Wales every day. Traditionally services have been provided in very standardised ways without reference to the sexuality of the patient or user. However more recently, this model of manufacturing healthcare has been challenged by gay men and lesbian women who feel their mistreatment is attributable to the failure of NHS services to acknowledge and meet their specific needs.
Acknowledging that NHS staff often communicate their values and beliefs through the way in which they provide services, steps have been taken by the NHS department within the Welsh Assembly Government, to introduce guidance on recognising the rights of same sex partners in relation to next of kin issues. This means that individuals when engaging with health services in relation to a sick partner will receive the same rights and acknowledgements as heterosexual people. The Welsh Assembly Government through the Health Division, have made it clear, that it is not acceptable that NHS staff for whatever reason, undermine or diminish same sex relationships during the course of providing health services.
Information on the health of the lesbian and gay population in Wales is hard to determine. Using research evidence gathered from health surveys conducted in England, we know that individuals who are lesbian or gay can:
In Wales, among the lesbian and gay population there is no reason to suspect these health factors are any different from across the rest of the UK. However the demographic nature of the lesbian and gay community can mean that such considerations are exacerbated by rural isolation, economic inactivity and peer group oppression. Stonewall Cymru have recently released a report exploring the health needs of LGB people in North & Mid Wales. For more information click here.
Although all of these factors would suggest that lesbian women and gay men need the provision of high quality health services to address some of the effects of being treated unequally the NHS has yet to respond effectively to this challenge. For these reasons, the importance of extending the rights of lesbian women and gay men to be protected from discrimination in relation to receiving goods, facilities and services is critical to meeting needs in an effective and appropriate way.
To build the capacity of health service organisations to be more responsive to the needs of lesbian women and gay men, a number of projects are currently in the process of being delivered. Over the course of the next twelve months, every member of staff will receive cultural competence training to improve their awareness of cultural and social diversity. Delivered through an programme of E-learning this will specifically address the importance of acknowledging the rights of individuals who are lesbian or gay. This work will be supplemented by an equality monitoring project currently being rolled our across every NHS organisation. The purpose of this will be to record the race, gender, sexuality, age, disability and language of every patient accessing hospital services. The intention behind this project is that service provision can be evaluated in terms of its impact upon different groups within the wider population. This means that the experience of lesbian women and gay men can be used to inform the way in which service are developed and improved.
To help improve understanding of the needs of gay men and women within the NHS workforce, a staff survey will be conducted across the whole of the NHS in the autumn of 2005. For the first time, this will include a question relating to the sexuality of all employees. As well as indicating the size of the lesbian and gay population inside the NHS, this information will also help to evaluate the work experiences of men and women in relation to their sexuality.
Stonewall Cymru's Inside-Out Project was a community led piece of research focussing on lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people's experiences of accessing health services in North and Mid Wales which recognised that LGB people themselves are the best people to understand the health issues relevant to other LGB people. A report was launched in March.
NHS Centre for Equality and Human Rights at Block B, First Floor, Mamhilad House, Mamhilad Park Estate, Pontypool. Tel 01495 332227
Contact your Local Health Board and speak to the officer responsible for patient involvement.
Speak to your local Community Health Council
Contact the Equality Adviser of the relevant Hospital Trust or facility.
Further information relating to any of these avenues of inquiry can be obtained from the Centre for Equality and Human Rights.