Gay health: access to healthcare
As a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person you are entitled to exactly the same standards of care as heterosexual people in the NHS.
Your rights are now clearly stated in the NHS Constitution, which all NHS organisations have to comply with.
It's a good idea to tell your doctor if you're gay, lesbian or bisexual. If your doctor knows about your sexuality or sexual preferences, it can be easier to discuss your life, relationships and health concerns. They can also keep an eye out for any health problems that might be relevant to you.
Studies have shown that lesbian, gay and bisexual people can feel reluctant to talk openly to their GP and may avoid appointments because of fear of prejudice.
As a gay man or woman, you may worry about homophobia. Clinicians, such as nurses and doctors, may occasionally react poorly to a patient who comes out to them. This can be because of ignorance or prejudice.
Either way, it's unacceptable and illegal. The law, the NHS and the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, are clear that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. If this happens to you, the best thing to do is to make a complaint immediately.
We are all individuals, and we share a lot of the same health needs whether we are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or straight communities. However, there are some areas where people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual might have different health needs or risks from those who identify as straight.
There are higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as syphilis and gonorrhoea, among gay or bisexual men. Among lesbians, rates of STIs are usually lower than in heterosexual women.
A survey by Stonewall found that gay and bisexual men are more likely to smoke and drink than straight men. Two-thirds of gay and bisexual men have smoked at some time in their life compared to half of men in general. More than two in five (42%) gay and bisexual men drink alcohol on three or more days a week compared to 35% of men in general.
Another Stonewall survey found that lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to smoke and drink than women in general. Two-thirds of lesbian and bisexual women have smoked compared to half of women in general, and 40% of lesbian and bisexual women drink three times a week compared to 25% of women in general.
For some, a lifetime of feeling "different" or being treated differently can affect your mental wellbeing and have an impact on your physical health, such as high blood pressure and eating disorders. It can also lead to self-harm, which appears to be more likely among lesbian, gay and bisexual people than straight people.
Health checks and support
According to Dr Justin Varney, a consultant in public health medicine, there are important health services that everyone should take up, including lesbians, gays and bisexuals, such as regular and routine check-ups for blood pressure and STIs.
In addition, gay and bisexual men are more at risk of hepatitis B and should have a hepatitis B vaccination.
Find out more about health checks for gay men and women.
You can find more information about healthcare and the LGB community, and where to go for support, at:
Choosing a GP
Your choice of doctor is usually restricted by where you live, although there may be many surgeries to choose from. Some things to consider are:
- opening hours and how easy it is to get an appointment
- the number of doctors in the clinic (it may be easier to get an appointment at a larger surgery)
- the gender of the doctor, if you have a preference
When visiting the surgery, keep an eye out for any posters or reading material that are particularly relevant to lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.
Ask if the doctors have had any recent equality training and if the practice has an equality policy that includes sexual orientation. You have the right to complain if you feel you have been discriminated against.
Sexual health clinics
Genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics are specifically for sexual health. The services at NHS GUM clinics are free of charge and you don't have to provide personal details, such as your real name. Find out more about the services sexual health clinics offer.
NHS walk-in centres
These give you access to health advice and treatment for minor illnesses or injuries. You don't need an appointment or to be registered.
They're run by experienced NHS nurses and are usually open every day of the year. They provide a variety of services, including treatment for minor illnesses and injuries such as colds, infections (non-sexual), cuts and sprains.
The term 'trans' refers to a diverse community of people, including those who cross-dress (transvestites) and transgender people who have a strong desire to live as a person of the opposite sex. Like lesbian, gay and bisexual people, trans people may face prejudice, isolation and limited understanding of their lives.
These experiences place many trans people at risk of alcohol abuse, depression, suicide, self-harm, violence, substance abuse and HIV. A lot of the information in this section will be relevant to trans people. Find out more about transgender health.
You can also find out more information at gires: information for trans people.
Article provided by NHS Choices
Record managed by Oxfordshire Family Information Service