It’s not unusual for LGBT+ people to dread going to see their doctor or nurse. A recent Stonewall UK study reported one in seven LGBT+ people have avoided seeking NHS care because they were concerned they would experience discrimination.
Despite improving social attitudes in the UK, LGBT+ people can still face significant problems accessing healthcare. Almost a quarter have witnessed NHS staff making negative remarks about LGBT+ people. One in eight report experiencing unequal treatment because of their sexuality or gender identity, and a quarter feel that their healthcare provider does not have a good understanding of the specific health needs of LGBT+ people.
Over half of NHS staff don’t think sexual orientation is relevant to healthcare, and one in every fourteen members of NHS staff say they would feel ‘uncomfortable’ working alongside a trans colleague. Many NHS staff feel they don’t have the knowledge or confidence to stand up for LGBT+ patients and colleagues who might need it.
LGBT+ people are far more likely to have mental health problems than the general population, with significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm and attempted suicide. For some groups, particularly trans people or LGBT+ people who are black or are from ethnic minorities, those figures rise further.
Young LGBT+ people face greater challenges. They are often still exploring their sense of self and identity and may feel afraid and uncertain to disclose their sexuality or gender identity, which can have a detrimental impact on their physical and mental health. Feeling uncertain of the response they may get if they come out to an NHS staff member, they are less likely to do so – even the perception that discrimination may happen can cause harm.
NHS staff are in the perfect position to be advocates and supporters for LGBT+ people. Increased awareness of the issues LGBT+ people face when accessing healthcare can make a significant difference to their experiences, and, in turn improve their health.
Launched in October 2018 with support from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and funded by the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, the Evelina London Children’s Hospital Rainbow NHS Badge project is intended to be a small part of the solution to some of these challenges.
The badge is a simple image: an NHS logo superimposed on the rainbow pride flag, worn on NHS staff lanyards or uniforms. They promote a message of inclusion and are a sign that the wearer is someone you can tall to about issues of sexuality and gender identity.
It was very important to us that wearing the badge is meaningful, which is why when staff sign up to wear the badge they are provided with information about LGBT+ health inequalities and ways that they can help to tackle them. We have also created a toolkit to encourage other NHS organisations to introduce the scheme.
The response at Evelina London has been overwhelmingly positive and, from February 2019, we have started rolling out the project across the wider NHS. Over 3,000 staff members at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust are signed up to wear a badge, and 25% of NHS Trusts in England have either launched the badges, or are preparing to do so, with several launching to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia today.
A badge will only ever be one small part of a much needed wider NHS commitment to help address challenges LGBT+ people still face with regards to health and accessing healthcare, but the power of a simple symbol to send a clear message of acceptance, inclusivity and non-judgmental assistance is one we think should not be under-estimated.
You can keep up to date with the project by following the @RainbowNHSBadge Twitter account, or by emailing RainbowBadge@gstt.nhs.uk