The first major survey ever conducted into lesbian and bisexual women's health in Scotland reveals deeply disturbing levels of self-harm, discrimination and exclusion from routine testing for cervical cancer.
Prescription for Change, a survey of 6,000 UK lesbian and bisexual respondents, 500 of them in Scotland, suggests that health services are failing to identify specific healthcare needs among lesbian and bisexual women. They are also failing to address specific mental health needs that many women still experience as a result of discrimination.
The survey is the biggest of its kind ever conducted outside America and provides shocking new statistics on the mental health of Scottish lesbian and bisexual women. One in five Scottish lesbian and bisexual women has deliberately harmed themselves in the last year, compared to 0.4 per cent of the general population. 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.
The survey shows lesbian and bisexual women are still not accessing vital cancer screening services. Seventeen per cent of Scottish lesbian and bisexual women between the ages of 25 and 64 have never had a smear test, compared to seven per cent of women in general. One in ten of these women have been told they are not at risk of cervical cancer.
And, even though new legislation introduced in 2007 made it illegal to discriminate against lesbian and bisexual women in the delivery of public services, half of lesbian and bisexual women in Scotland have had negative experiences in the health care sector in the past year.
Calum Irving, Director, Stonewall Scotland, said: "This report is a wake up call for all those concerned with health in Scotland. It is no longer acceptable to view health inequality in terms of social background alone. For lesbian and bisexual women the experiences of prejudice, misunderstanding and at times hostility can damage long term health and well being.
"This is the largest survey of its kind in Europe and the first major survey of lesbian and bisexual women's health in Scotland. It's incumbent upon the Scottish Government and the NHS to ensure its findings are used to change the lives of Scottish gay and bisexual women."
The report includes ten key recommendations for the NHS to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery for lesbian and bisexual patients.
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