Prescription

Prescription for Change: Lesbian & Bisexual women's health check

In 2007, Stonewall invited lesbian and bisexual women from across Great Britain to complete a survey about their health needs and experiences of the health sector. We were overwhelmed by the response. More than 500 Scottish women and over 6000 responses in total completed the survey, making this the largest survey of lesbian and bisexual women's health needs outside America. The picture they paint should disturb any healthcare practitioner.

The Report

Key findings for Scotland

Drugs

  • Lesbian and bisexual women are five times more likely to have taken drugs than women in general
  • Over one in ten have taken cocaine, compared to three per cent of women in general

Sexual health

  • Less than half of lesbian and bisexual women have ever been screened for sexually transmitted infections
  • Half of those who have been screened had an STI and a quarter of those with STIs have only had sex with women in the last five years

Cancer screening

  • Seventeen per cent of lesbian and bisexual women over the age of 25 have never had a cervical smear test, compared to seven per cent of women in general
  • One in ten who have not had a test have been told they are not at risk
  • One in six lesbian and bisexual women aged between 50 and 79 have been diagnosed with breast cancer, compared to one in twenty women in general

Mental health

  • Twenty per cent of lesbian and bisexual women have deliberately harmed themselves in the last year, compared to 0.4 per cent of the general population
  • One in two women under the age of 20 have self-harmed compared to one in fifteen of teenagers generally
  • Five per cent of lesbian and bisexual women have attempted to take their life in the last year and fifteen per cent of women under the age of 20 have attempted to take their life. ChildLine estimate that 0.12 per cent of people under 18 have attempted suicide
  • One in four says they have an eating disorder, compared to one in 20 of the general population

Domestic violence

  • One in four lesbian and bisexual women has experienced domestic violence, the same as women in general. In two thirds of cases, the perpetrator was another woman.

Discrimination in healthcare

  • Just three in ten lesbian and bisexual women say that healthcare workers did not make inappropriate comments when they came out
  • Just one in nine felt that their partner was welcome during a consultation.
    Doctor

Key recommendations

1. Understand lesbian health needs

Only one in eight lesbian and bisexual women said that healthcare workers have given them information relevant to their health care needs.

2. Train staff

Only three in ten lesbian and bisexual women said healthcare workers did not make inappropriate comments about their sexual orientation.

3. Don't make assumptions

Two in five lesbian and bisexual women said that in the last year healthcare workers had assumed they were heterosexual.

4. Explicit policies

Only one in ten say that their GP surgery displayed non-discriminatory policy.

5. Tell lesbians what they need to know

Two in five lesbian and bisexual women think they are not at risk from sexually transmitted infections.

6. Improve monitoring

One in thirteen lesbian and bisexual women stated that when they did come out to a healthcare worker they were either ignored, or the healthcare worker continued to assume they were heterosexual.

7. Increase visibility

One in five lesbian and bisexual women have self-harmed in the last year, with incidences of self harm ten times higher among those under the age of 20. Increased visibility of lesbian and bisexual women will help improve self-esteem and morale.

8. Make confidentiality policies clear

One in eight lesbian and bisexual women are not sure what their GP's policy is on confidentiality.

9. Make complaints procedures clear

Half of lesbian and bisexual women have had a negative experience in the health sector in the last year.

10. Develop tailored services

Only two per cent of lesbian and bisexual women have attended a service tailored towards their needs.


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