Press Release – 11 November 2011

GP practices should address the needs of older lesbian gay and bisexual people

A new report, published by Age of Diversity, recommends ways for GP practices to make lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people feel more welcome. This is particularly crucial for older LGB patients, who tend to use GP's services more than younger LGB people. Appropriate Treatment: Older lesbian, gay and bisexual people’s experience of general practice, by Lindsay River, presents the results of a survey of 283 LGB people over 50 about their experiences of general practice. (The survey included some trans people who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, but trans people were not specifically addressed, as this would have required a separate project).

While 51% of the people surveyed reported a generally favourable treatment from health professionals in terms of their sexual orientation, 31 per cent of lesbians, and 21 per cent of gay men, reported negative experiences. Some individuals had had disturbingly bad experiences, and some of these were recent (since 2005). Older lesbians were tired of the constant assumption they were heterosexual and had criticisms about case taking and pelvic examination. Older gay men resented the assumption that all their health problems must be sex-related. Bisexuals of both sexes also had concerns. LGB people in general would welcome more visible signs (for instance posters) showing that the practice recognises LGB people exist in the population and welcomes them. Some but not all would welcome being asked about their sexual orientation: the general conclusion is that doctors and nurses should take a lead from the patient, appreciating that the LGB community is very diverse in its needs and wishes.

The 91-page report is the first publication by Age of Diversity, the new organisation set up to campaign for older lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people throughout the UK. The report was formally launched at Kingston University’s “Older LGBT Matters” conference (Improving Services for older LGBT Adults in Tower Hamlets, London and Beyond) at Toynbee Hall, Commercial Street, London E1, on 9 November 2011.

Lindsay River, Convenor of Age of Diversity and author of the report, said “The report includes quantitative findings, analysis and recommendations that are highly relevant in the current NHS climate. Most importantly, it contains the voices of older LGB people about their experiences of General Practice: good, bad, and interesting.”

Some of the favourable comments from respondents include:

  • “As an older lesbian I find it hard to talk about certain things. My GP is a very warm and caring woman and I felt she put me at my ease and felt she was not judging me.”
  • “The doctor took the news I was gay in a 100% professional and business like way.”
  • “The doctor made me feel so happy; she must have remembered meeting my partner during a home visit, it seemed to break the ice and acknowledge the relationship.”
  • “…they have said “it’s your life why be ashamed of it?” - this has proved to a tremendous self confidence booster.”

Less favourable comments include:

  • “I went to discuss my partner’s nocturnal epilepsy … The doctor’s questioning was all about AIDS and safe sex.”
  • “My (former) GP prescribed HRT and said that ‘it should make my husband happy.’ I was stunned by the sexist and heterosexist assumptions wrapped up in this comment.”
  • “The growth turned out to be rectal cancer but this hadn’t been considered as it was presumed that as I was gay it must be related to sexual practices.”
  • “…the smile froze on her face. Her whole manner changed in that moment of disclosure and she remained frosty and inaccessible from then on.”
  • “Their reaction against me has been intense at times, and as I usually see them when I am vulnerable whilst sick, I usually protect myself from their potential judgment by not telling them.”

For more about Age of Diversity, see www.ageofdiversity.org.uk.

For more about the launch, including Lindsay River’s slide presentation, see http://ageofdiversity.org.uk/reportlaunch.

The full text of the 91-page report is at http://ageofdiversity.org.uk/sites/default/files/AppropriateTreatment.pdf. The 8-page Executive summary is at http://ageofdiversity.org.uk/sites/default/files/AppropriateTreatmentSum..., and for a selection of quotations from older LGB people surveyed see http://ageofdiversity.org.uk/olderLGBvoices.

For more about the Older LGBT Matters conference, see http://www.voluntaryaction.net/event/older-lgbt-matters.

END