LGBT Foundation is thrilled that Dr Michael Brady has been appointed the new government advisor for LGBT health. We look forward to working collaboratively with him to support the government’s LGBT action plan. LGBT people come from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, ages, socio-economic and professional statuses and religious beliefs. However, they are often "invisible" or find their specific health needs ignored when accessing healthcare.
While some LGBT people may be open about their identities with healthcare professionals, others may fear discrimination or experience barriers to accessing services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
These fears may be confirmed if people make incorrect assumptions about LGBT people’s healthcare needs, if services are not visible and representative or if LGBT people are required to disclose personal information in unsafe or public areas in order to get the support they need.
LGBT communities experience a wide range of health inequalities compared to the general population. Stonewall’s 2018 report on the health of LGBT people in Britain found that 52% of LGBT people have experienced depression within the last year and one in eight young people (18-24 years) have attempted suicide.
Additionally, evidence shows that LGBT people are more likely to experience cancer risk factors including smoking and problematic drug and alcohol use. 42% of young men with eating disorders identify as gay. Also, older LGBT people are more likely to be single and live alone, less likely to have children, and more likely to be socially isolated. This is significantly higher than wider society, and consequently they are more likely to rely on health and care services compared to the general population.
What can pharmacists do?
Pharmacy staff are often the healthcare professionals that a LGBT person has most frequent contact with. Community pharmacies are ideally placed to take positive steps in supporting the health of LGBT people and improving access to high quality, inclusive care.
Community pharmacies can do this by creating an inclusive and supportive environment. This includes use of targeted signposting, inclusive practice policies and staff training to deliver person-centred care within practice. Training is available through Pride in Practice, a quality assurance and social prescribing programme designed to support primary care professionals to meet the needs of their LGBT patients and service users.
In addition to staff training and signposting, pharmacists can communicate more effectively with LGBT patients by using inclusive language, correct body language and tone of voice. For example, asking: “What’s your partner’s name?” rather than “what’s your wife or husband’s name?” can prevent patients having to correct an assumption or “come out” in order to get the healthcare they need.
Using inclusive language also prevents any possibility of misgendering (using the incorrect title or pronoun) patients who identify as trans or non-binary. Asking open questions and active listening are key ways that pharmacy staff can find opportunities to provide signposting and information about local LGBT support groups, helpline services and organisations.
Pharmacists may also want to make patients aware that there are confidential rooms within the pharmacy where they can chat privately, so that they don’t have to disclose any personal information in front of other patients and customers.
There are many things pharmacists can do to support LGBT patients. Dr Brady’s appointment is a fundamental step in demonstrating the government’s commitment to support LGBT people across the UK. It will help healthcare to develop equitable services for some of society’s most vulnerable and marginalised people. We look forward to working together.
Clare Marshall is the Pride in Practice coordinator at LGBT Foundation. For information on Pride in Practice and how your pharmacy can support LGBT patients, contact firstname.lastname@example.org