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Telling doctors about your sexual orientation

October 2017

doctor consulting with patient

In a couple of years doctors and health professionals will be expected to ask their patients about their sexual orientation.

Of course when we were kids sexual orientations didn’t exist, not openly anyway.

While things have moved on dramatically, some are now asking if this new standard recommended by NHS England really isn’t a step too far.

It is not just a simple question either. Doctors and health professionals will be asked to note down whether their patients are heterosexual or straight, gay or lesbian, bisexual, other sexual orientation, not sure, not stated or not known.

Apart from the time taken to ask and record the answer to this, there is deep concern that the question is incredibly time wasting and also totally irrelevant. Doctors are expected to be fully trained and to ask the best questions for the medical and health problems in hand. In some cases, sexual history may be relevant, but to ask someone who has come in with a cold, a sprained ankle or a deep cut about their sex life will seem very intrusive and unnecessary.

The Chairman of the Family Doctor Association has already come out against the idea, saying that not only is it potentially intrusive and offensive for GPs to monitor people’s sexuality, but also that given the precious short amount of time a GP has with a patient, sexuality is not relevant.

A spokesperson for NHS England has said the information would help NHS bodies comply with equality legislation by collecting personal details of patients such as race, sex and sexual orientation. According to the LGBT Foundation, it is thought that LGBT people are at significantly higher risk of mental health problems, self harm and suicidal thoughts than heterosexual people. The LGBT charity Stonewall is urging the NHS to extend the questioning to include trans and non-binary patients.

However, individual NHS trusts may have the choice to opt out of this, and certainly it is worth noting that no one has to answer these questions.

Many are already thinking that it would be better if NHS England concentrate more on resolving all the existing problems rather than bringing in further time consuming requirements for our hard pressed medical workers. Either way, the new recommendation is not expected to be implemented until 2019 which will give people time to think about how they want to answer the question before they see their doctor.

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