LGBTI people face health service barriers

Posted On 10 Oct 2017
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New research by a consortium including the University of Brighton has uncovered inequalities, barriers and discrimination faced by LGBTI people when accessing health services.

Researchers, experts, and activists in lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) health conducted a state-of-the-art review study and ran 12 focus groups in six EU Member States in a €500,000 EU-funded pilot project Health4LGBTI.

The continuing study aims to understand better health inequalities experienced by LGBTI people and the barriers faced by health professionals when providing care to these groups.

Dr Nigel Sherriff

Dr Nigel Sherriff

The University of Brighton’s research team, led by Dr Nigel Sherriff with Dr Laetitia Zeeman, Professor Kath Browne, and Dr Nick McGlynn, is part of a consortium contracted by the European Commission to explore health needs and challenges faced by LGBTI people and to analyse barriers faced by health professionals when providing care for LGBTI people.

Dr Sherriff said: “There is strong evidence demonstrating the existence of health inequalities experienced by LGBTI people that impact on health. These are multiple and complex – they are also are unjust and preventable.”

“The consortium is providing European health professionals with the appropriate tools with the aim of overcoming these barriers and reducing these inequalities.”

Countries involved in the study were Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Lithuania, Poland and the UK.

Findings revealed health inequalities, barriers, and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics of LGBTI people. The results will be used to develop training for health professionals.

The findings were corroborated by focus groups involving LGBTI people and health professionals in the six Member States. Their stories and experiences revealed a wide variety of ongoing inequalities and barriers, regardless of whether equality for LGBTI people is supported at the political level or not.

LGBTI people and healthcare professionals involved agreed that mandatory training around LGBTI issues is needed by all staff in healthcare services.

The study, part of a 24-month project launched in 2016, is funded by the European Parliament and is being carried on behalf of the European Commission.

Key findings include:

  1. Root causes likely to contribute to the experience of health inequalities by LGBTI people are: i) still prevailing cultural and social norms that assume people are non-LGBTI by default; ii) minority stress associated with sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics; iii) victimisation; iv) discrimination (individual and institutional), and; v) stigma.
  2. Significant mental and physical health inequalities exist for LGBTI people. For example, LGBTI people are at significantly higher risk of poor mental health compared to the general population which includes higher incidence of suicidal thoughts, substance misuse, anxiety, and deliberate self-harm.
  3. LGBTI people face barriers when accessing healthcare. Examples include prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviour of healthcare staff; unequal treatment; needs not being recognised; fear of disclosure of gender identity, sexual orientation, or sex characteristics. Cases were reported where LGBTI people see themselves being refused healthcare services due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics.
  4. Many health professionals lack knowledge and cultural competence concerning the lives and healthcare needs of LGBTI people. Firstly, medical literature regarding LGBTI people needs to be updated, secondly health professionals’ assumptions can be a barrier to LGBTI people seeking healthcare. These include assumptions that people are non-LGBTI by default; that being LGBTI is irrelevant; and that LGBTI people do not experience significant discrimination. Thirdly, they can find it difficult to challenge anti-LGBTI attitudes from both colleagues and patients.
  5. Specific groups within LGBTI (particularly bisexual, trans and intersex people) encounter their own specific barriers, and healthcare professionals’ knowledge of these groups is limited.
  6. Although scarce, in some Member States, examples of promising practice in meeting the needs of LGBTI people are evident.

The study revealed significant gaps in research on the topic and limited research with trans and intersex people to better understand their general health profile, experiences, and physical and mental health needs in relation to service provision. Similarly, further research that adopts an intersectional perspective on health inequalities experienced by LGBTI people is required.

Where research does exist, it showed that living in rural areas, being a migrant, refugee, and/or asylum seeker, being on a low-income, being young or old, and living with disabilities can contribute to health inequalities for LGBTI people and have implications for access to health services.

Findings and feedback about training needs are being used to develop a new training package for healthcare professionals across the EU. This modular training package will expand healthcare professionals’ skills regarding LGBTI people’s healthcare, in order to help address the barriers and inequalities identified.

For more information about Health4LGBTI, click here:

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