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Doctors Must End Gay Discrimination

June 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Doctors need to do all they can to protect patients and colleagues from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, a new report by the British Medical Association says. The report, Sexual Orientation in the Workplace, comes in the wake of recent legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

The BMA guidance presents essential information for combating gay discrimination in the medical workplace.

It recommends changing the culture of the workplace so that doctors feel more secure in 'coming-out' to their colleagues.

It also suggests including sexual orientation guidance in equal opportunities policies and procedures and helping to reduce feelings of isolation by challenging homophobia in the workplace and educating other staff about sexual orientation.

"The NHS currently uses an estimate that at least 1 in 20 of the population are lesbian or gay - so an increased awareness that colleagues and patients may not be heterosexual is crucial to treating each other sensitively and respectfully," said Rachel Hogg Co-chair of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists.

Anecdotes in the report show gay patients are often reluctant to reveal their sexual orientation to their doctor because they feel the reaction might be negative. The report makes suggestions as to how doctors can be more sensitive to these patients needs.

"Everyone has the right to be treated equally, regardless of their sexual orientation," said Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's Head of Science and Ethics.

"Doctors and patients should feel safe and confident when they are in hospitals and surgeries"

Guidelines for integrating teaching about homosexuality into the medical school curriculum are also included within the report to ensure medical students are taught how to act in a non-judgemental way with gay colleagues and patients.

"Future doctors have a responsibility to their colleagues and patients. Sexual orientation should be included in the medical school curriculum and will help create a health service environment where all doctors can achieve their full potential and all patients be treated with the respect they deserve," said Dr Sam Everington, Co-chair of the BMA's Equal Opportunities Committee and Deputy Chairman of the BMA.

The report is part of the BMA's campaign on diversity which recommends a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.

The Doctoring Gay Men report by Sigma Research was published in August 2004 and revealed that less than half of gay men in the UK are "out" to their doctor and that a third of all gay men who are registered with a GP said the surgery staff did not know they had sex with men, and they would be unhappy if this information was given to staff.

The research aimed to help form a better understanding of the relationships between gay men and GPs by making a series of recommendations for improving gay men's interaction with GPs.