Damning inequalities revealed in first major lesbian health study

Article provided by Stonewall www.stonewall.org.uk

Significantly more self-harm and suicide than in wider female population
Higher levels of drug use and heavy drinking

Half Britain's 1.8m lesbians still report a recent negative NHS experience
The first major survey ever conducted into lesbian and bisexual women's health in Britain reveals deeply disturbing levels of self-harm, substance abuse and exclusion from routine testing for cervical cancer. Prescription for Change, a survey of 6,000 lesbian and bisexual respondents, suggests that health services are failing to identify specific healthcare needs among Britain's 1.8 million lesbian population. They are also failing to address specific mental health needs that many women still experience as a result of discrimination. 

Ruth Hunt, Stonewall Head of Policy and Research, said: 'This vital new intelligence provides a wake-up call to healthcare practitioners across the country. It also demonstrates that hundreds of thousands of lesbian and bisexual women feel highly uncomfortable when engaging with the NHS. Women who are deterred from visiting their GP, or coming out to them, are less likely to be treated early and appropriately with inevitably higher costs for the NHS when accurate diagnosis finally takes place.' 

The survey, the biggest of its kind ever conducted outside America, provides unique new statistics on the mental health, drinking and drug use of lesbian and bisexual women in Britain in 2008:

  • One in five lesbian and bisexual women have deliberately harmed themselves in the last year, compared to 0.4 per cent of the general population. Young lesbian and bisexual women are ten times more likely to have self-harmed compared to others - half of women under 20 have self-harmed compared to one in fifteen of teenagers generally.
  • Lesbian and bisexual women under 20 are eight times more likely to have attempted to take their life than teenagers generally.
  • Lesbian and bisexual women are five times more likely to have taken drugs than women generally. Forty per cent drink three times a week compared to a quarter of women in general.

New legislative protections introduced in 2007 made it unlawful to discriminate against lesbian and bisexual women in the delivery of public services, yet half still report having had negative experiences in the health sector in the last year.
One in five who have not had a cervical smear test have been told, wrongly, by healthcare practitioners that they are not at risk. One in fifty have been refused a test. Fifteen per cent of lesbian and bisexual women over 25 - almost double the number of women in general - have never had a cervical smear test.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive, said: 'Lesbian and gay taxpayers fund 60,000 posts within the NHS. What lesbian and bisexual women have revealed should disturb any healthcare practitioner and encourage the NHS to take their statutory obligations towards these women more seriously. This report also provides compelling evidence that the current duty on health services to provide equality of treatment on grounds of gender, ethnicity and disability should be extended to sexual orientation.' 

The report includes ten key recommendations for the NHS to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery for lesbian and bisexual patients. 'We trust that ministers will take this report seriously and start pushing service providers across the NHS to address some of the very stark evidence of differential service delivery revealed by this research,' said Ben Summerskill.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that it took seriously any differences in health between different groups, and pledged to work with Stonewall.
'We welcome this research. It provides valuable evidence about the health needs of lesbian and bisexual women.'

Article provided by Stonewall www.stonewall.org.uk

Download the full report and regional reports at www.stonewall.org.uk/lesbianhealth

Posted by Asif Yusuf

Publisher of Diversity Link



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