From October 2010 the Equality Act makes it unlawful to treat people unfairly because of their sexual orientation when receiving healthcare. These legal protections were first introduced in 2007.
Previously, gay people often had to put up with being turned away or treated unfairly by service providers simply because of their sexual orientation. Our campaign to secure legal protections in this area was motivated by widespread evidence of discrimination across both the private and public sectors.
The Equality Act outlaws discrimination in a range of important areas, including healthcare. For example, GPs can no longer turn you way for being gay - some did in the past - or refuse lesbian and gay people treatments they would offer to anyone else.
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly or discriminated against because of your sexual orientation when seeing your doctor or accessing healthcare services, then you will need to go through the NHS complaints procedure, or through the independent healthcare complaints service. This is detailed below, along with some further organisations you could contact to help you with your complaint.
The first stage of the NHS complaints procedure is called Local Resolution. This is where you have to make your complaint to the practitioner or clinic where you were treated. You can do this in person or in writing. Local Resolution aims to resolve complaints as quickly as possible. The Department of Health says you should receive a reply from a primary care practitioner within 10 working days or from the Chief Executive of the NHS organisation you are complaining about within 25 days. You should be informed if this deadline will not be met.
Some NHS Foundation Trusts have different complaints procedures to the one outlined above. You may need to contact them directly before making a complaint to find out their procedure.
The second stage of the complaints procedure comes if you are unhappy with the response you receive. You should then contact the Health Service Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is a completely independent body.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Telephone: 0345 015 4033
General Medical Council Guidance
Stonewall and the General Medical Council have collaborated to update the 2007 leaflet Protecting Patients: Your Rights as Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People to take into consideration the Equality Act 2010 and revised General Medical Council guidance. There are three versions: Scotland, England and Wales.
Stonewall has found evidence of doctors discriminating against patients because of their sexual orientation which can mean people do not receive the support they might need. Stonewall works closely with bodies such as the General Medical Council to ensure that such discrimination is not tolerated. Doctors should treat you as an individual; respecting your dignity and privacy. If they do not, then they are breaching GMC guidelines and the protections afforded under the Equality Act.
This guide outlines how people can complain if they feel they have been discriminated against by their doctor because of their sexual orientation, and what the principles of good practice for doctors are regarding sexual orientation.
Private healthcare complaints
If you have been discriminated against when accessing private healthcare, you can make a complaint through the Independent Healthcare Advisory Service. See www.independenthealthcare.org.uk for more information.
ICAS- Independent Complaints Advocacy Service
They can advise you about your complaint and about the NHS complaints procedure. You can find details of your local ICAS service at www.doh.gov.uk.
The General Medical Council
You can make a complaint to the GMC about your doctor, and they can investigate into a doctor's fitness to practice. They have guidelines on doctors' obligations to uphold patient confidentiality on their website.
Telephone: 0845 357 8001
Guidelines on confidentiality: www.gmc-uk.org/confidentiality
PALS- Patient Advice and Liaison Services
A PALS service has been established in every NHS Trust and Primary Care Trust. Patients can raise concerns with them informally and they may be able to help with Local Resolution procedures.
You can find out about your local PALS contact details here: http://www.pals.nhs.uk/