Zero tolerance on prejudice

by Daniel Jones

A public health doctor shares his experiences of attitudes towards LGBTQ healthcare workers and patients as well as personal reflections of the past year

Location: Wales
Published: Wednesday 16 June 2021
dan jones

As you can imagine the past year has been exhausting and yet fascinating as a public health professional.

The effects of the pandemic have been devastating for many, but it has also gathered some interesting research which will provide important lessons for the future and put public health and issues such as health inequalities into the limelight.

While in recent months my job has been more research based than public-facing, I spent time as a medical student and foundation doctor in various healthcare settings observing the way in which NHS staff and patients interacted with one another.

Being a gay, cisgender man meant my experiences were often different from some of my colleagues, for example I would and still feel the need to have to ‘come out’ about my sexuality when asked about my personal life.

Sadly, the healthcare environment reflects wider society where homophobic attitudes and prejudice still exist.

A finding which was reflected in the 2016 BMA survey in partnership with GLAAD, of LGBTQ+ doctors across the UK, which found:

  • More than 70% of respondents said they had endured one or more types of harassment or abuse in the last two years related to their sexuality
  • 12% said they had experienced at least one form of harassment or abuse at their place of work or study including psychological or emotional abuse, verbal attacks, threats of violence and abuse on social media
  • 12% felt they had suffered some form of discrimination in their employment or studies because of being lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

I am incredibly proud of who I am, and I feel a sense of duty to draw attention to the LGBTQ+ community and the issues we continually face.

I feel passionate about improving the public health outcomes for people who identify as LGBTQ+.

From my personal and professional experiences, I think the healthcare sector could do a great deal more to understand the issues related to sexuality and gender identity to learn how to provide better care for patients.

At minimum, harassment experienced by LGBTQ+ staff and patients needs to be treated with the same zero tolerance approach used to condemn any other kind of behaviour based on prejudice.

This has been particularly salient in my career, I am all too aware of the health inequalities experienced by LGBTQ+ patients, with higher suicide rates and lower life expectancy.

It’s devastating to think that this is still the case in 2021 and urgently needs to be addressed.

Many cases of harassment motivated by homophobia go largely unreported and unpunished in the NHS with:

  • Only a quarter of those feeling they had suffered harassment/abuse reported it to someone senior *
  • Only a fifth of those feeling discriminated against attempted to take the matter further to try to get it resolved. *

This is another reason why we need to see ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ guardians in Wales.

With similar roles already established in Scotland and England a National Freedom to Speak up Guardian for Wales, supported by guardians in each local health board and champions in each hospital, would facilitate and report staff complaints and have them confidentially and independently reviewed and addressed at the highest level.

It’s our hope that this would provide a healthier culture of staff being able to report harassment without fear that it would impact their professional career.

In addition to work, I have found the past year very challenging personally, I have always felt a great sense of togetherness in the LGBTQ+ community and its social scene and this sadly came to an abrupt halt with the closing of pubs, bars and clubs.

This year I’ll try to celebrate PRIDE with friends and family, but nothing beats the atmosphere of the social events and I can’t wait to get back to that.

* Results from the BMA’s 2016 LGBTQ survey in partnership with GLAAD

Daniel Jones is a public health registrar in Wales