The hugely controversial NHS decision to ask all patients if they are gay is ‘political correctness gone mad’, claims a family GP.
Dr Michael Dixon, who practices in Devon, condemned the move – which has also been branded as ‘intrusive’ and ‘insulting’.
NHS England bosses received huge backlash in October when they announced the plans, set to be implemented in 2019.
Every patient visiting their GP or attending a hospital appointment will be asked if they are gay, straight or bisexual under the new rules.
Dr Dixon revealed some will think he has gone ‘bonkers’ – especially elderly patients who he has treated for decades.
NHS England bosses received huge backlash in October when they announced the plans, set to be implemented in 2019
Writing in the British Medical Journal, he argued patients should be asked on a case-by-case basis and that the approach of asking everyone is ‘wrong’.
Dr Dixon wrote: ‘Making doctors ask all their patients about their sexual orientation is political correctness gone mad.
‘No one doubts that there can be great health benefits from knowing a patient’s sexuality, when offered voluntarily
‘Sexuality, for many people, is a private thing and not an appropriate descriptor of who they are.
‘In good medical practice, the patient’s own needs, wishes, choices, beliefs, culture, and perspective should come first – not the rules or diktats of any higher body.
‘Ultimately it should be up to the judgment of each GP as to when it is appropriate or useful to ask such questions.’
WHAT WILL PATIENTS BE ASKED?
People over 16 will be asked: ‘Which of the following best describes how you think of yourself?’ They can say they are ‘straight’, ‘gay or lesbian’, ‘bisexual’ or ‘other’.
They will also be able to state that they are ‘not sure’ of their sexuality, or ‘decline to provide a response’.
But whatever answer they give – including if they refuse to divulge their sexuality – will be noted on their medical record for ever.
He added: ‘The NHS needs to assert itself as a kind, compassionate, and intelligent service rather than a nosey parker grinding us all into cynical submission.
‘If I start asking my 17 or 70-year-olds about their sexuality, the former will think that I am weird and the latter that I have gone bonkers after being their GP for 35 years.’
‘If I then apologise and say that I am only asking because of the Equality Act and because the Care Quality Commission will be checking on me, then they might rightly wonder whether I have their best interests in mind.
‘Apparently this is all to stop discrimination under the Equality Act, but surely the best way to avoid discrimination is by not knowing people’s sexuality in the first place.’
NHS England’s instructions say that ‘sexual orientation monitoring’ should take place ‘at every face-to-face contact with the patient, where no record of this data exists’.
The directions suggest patients could be asked the highly personal question regularly if the records are not properly shared between different parts of the NHS.
There are also fears about the security of the data, as any leak could potentially ‘out’ thousands of patients, The Mail on Sunday reported at the time.
Health chiefs say NHS organisations and councils must ask so that they can obtain better data on the health of gay and bisexual people throughout England.
BUT LOTS OF GPS BELIEVE THE OPPOSITE…
But Richard Ma, a GP and research fellow at Imperial College London, believes all patients should be asked about their sexual orientation to give LGBT patients fairer treatment.
He said it would be a ‘logical and welcome step’ for NHS England to include sexual orientation monitoring in every patient encounter.
Dr Ma added: ‘Some doctors and patients have expressed concerns about this policy, citing reasons such as intrusion or invasion of privacy, fear of causing offence, doubts about relevance, data security.
‘Whilst I understand these concerns, they result in inertia; and failure to act undermines hard fought rights of LGBT patients to better healthcare.
‘Sexual orientation monitoring is necessary to make the health service for LGBT patients fairer. If we don’t count our LGBT patients, they don’t count.
‘We already fail the LGBT community by not recognising, or by making incorrect assumptions about, their needs.’
Failing to do so risks breaking the Equality Act 2010, gay rights groups warned when the move was revealed and widely criticised.
But politicians and doctors argued the NHS had ‘no place’ asking all patients the question when the decision was announced.
The project is being launched – without full public consultation – after at least seven years’ lobbying by the LGBT Foundation.
NHS England said the Manchester-based gay rights charity had ‘led the work to develop’ the so-called ‘sexual orientation monitoring information standard’.
The charity says LGBT people are ‘disproportionately affected’ by STIs, substance abuse, poor mental health and loneliness in old age.
More data would enable NHS and social care bosses to ‘better understand, respond to and improve LGBT patients’ service access, outcomes and experience’.
The Equality Act 2010 contains a legal obligation for all public sector bodies to pay ‘due regard’ to LGBT people’ to ensure they aren’t discriminated against.