NHS England New Guidelines Ask For Sexual Orientation

In the United States, doctors are not required to ask patients their sexual orientation. This information is beneficial not only for health professionals but for the country; the importance of knowing this information is multifaceted. Understanding one’s sexual health is significant because it can affect your physical and emotional well-being. One’s sexual orientation may put you at higher risk for certain health conditions. Lastly it can help provide accurate health and behavior counseling. For instance, several research reports conclude that anal cancer is prominent in gay men or that depression is common among the community, therefore it is extremely valuable for health care providers to meet these needs regardless of sexual orientation.

In the United States the Census Bureau is planning to maximize response and participation by the year 2020, specifically to better understand the LGBT population. Coinciding with this, under Healthy People 2020 some of the main objectives fall under the category of increasing the number of population-based data systems used to monitor Healthy People objectives which collect data for LGBT populations. These objectives involve increasing the number of states that include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). Don’t get me wrong, this is great progress, although all of these facets seem to be ingredients from different recipes. England has taken it to a new level.

Under new National Health Service (NHS) guidelines, health professionals in England are to be told to ask patients aged 16 years or over about their sexual orientation, not only to gather data but for ensuring well-rounded health care services. The NHS originated in 1948 and provides the majority of healthcare in England, which includes primary care, in-patient care, long-term healthcare, ophthalmology, and dentistry. The NHS said that no one would be explicitly forced to answer a question specifically about sexual orientation however, recording the data would ensure that “no patient is discriminated against”. This is a particularly important step.

The guidance applies to doctors and nurses as well as others responsible for adult social care. It will not have an impact on the care people receive and this is key. NHS England stated that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people were “disproportionately affected” by health inequalities such as poor mental health and a higher risk of violence, self-harm, and suicide and other health conditions. Even though data was already being collected in many areas of health care, this new guidance makes it standard; public bodies have legal obligation to pay regard to the needs of LGB people under the Equality ACT 2010. Under the guidance, health professionals are the ask patients the following question, “Which of the following options best describes how you think of yourself?” The options cover heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, other sexual orientation, not sure, not stated and not known. In some instances some people will feel uncomfortable asking or being asked about their sexuality. If a patient does not want to disclose their sexuality, then “not stated” would be recorded as their response. The most beneficial aspect of this change is the fact that this information will be translated into the absolute best care possible, which in my opinion is a step in the right direction.

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