Professor Ben Thomas, an NHS expert in mental health who also works for NHS Improvement, tells Care & Nursing Essentials about the Pride in Care conference in London on June 13.
What is the Pride in Care Conference and what are its aims?
Pride in Care is a new national conference helping to shape health and social care services to better address the needs of older LGBT+ people. The conference is organised by Opening Doors London, Britain’s leading provider of information and support services for older LGBT+ people. The conference aims to raise and address the key concerns of older LGBT+ with regard to accessibility, safety and inclusiveness of health and social care services and housing. The conference will provide an opportunity for health and social care providers to identify how services can be personalised to better address the needs of older LGBT+ people including the particular needs of older Trans, bisexual and Black and Minority Ethnic people. It will also be an opportunity to hear about and share good practice and support the work of health and social care champions who are doing innovative work.
How are LGBT community cared for when it comes to mental health?
The LGBT+ community have a greater prevalence of poor mental health, psychological distress and health risk behaviours than the general population. Research shows that LGB people are at more risk of suicidal behaviour, poorer mental health such as depression and anxiety, increased substance misuse and dependence than heterosexual people. (There is little information about the Trans community). Despite these findings LGBT+ people continue to face stigma and discrimination which have a negative impact on their self-concept and self-esteem. There is evidence that many LGBT people have experienced negative and mixed reactions from mental health professionals. Fears of negative treatment and care for mental health conditions can be a major barrier for seeking help. Delayed treatment can lead to increased and prolonged symptoms. Mental health services vary across the country and many organisations are improving and making an effort to become more LGBT+ sensitive by training staff and raising awareness about the needs of LGBT+ people.
Are UK homes inclusive of LGBT residents or is there more work to do?
Unfortunately, the majority of care homes are not particularly inclusive of LGBT+ residents and are not that LGBT+ friendly. There are reports of residents experiencing victimisation, discrimination and sometimes abuse. Many people have reported that they are fearful to disclose their sexual orientation in case of discrimination and you often hear of people going back into the closet. After all the advances we have made with equal rights it is shameful that older LGBT+ do not have the trust in care staff to be able to live out the rest of their lives openly and honestly with the sensitivity and respect they deserve. There is much more work to do, all forms of inequality and negativity have to be addressed and care homes must employ staff with positive attitudes and sensitivity to LGBT+ residents. It is reassuring to see care homes that champion the needs of older LGBT+ and many now put their staff through awareness raising training such as that offered by Opening Doors London.
Tell us about your Prostate Cancer talk at Pride in Care Conference?
Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer found in men in the UK. Like all men it can affect gay and bisexual men and also male to female transgender women. However, support for what has often been referred to as an ‘invisible group’ is limited and patchy throughout the country. Recognising this deficit Opening Doors London and Prostate Cancer UK are piloting national virtual support and discussion group. Originally the group was meant to run for six months but has now been extended for another three months. The group gives individuals the opportunity to talk with others in an open, safe forum about their cancer related experiences and how it effects them and their lifestyles.
Many of the discussions have focused on erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence and by far the biggest problem they have faced is stigma and discrimination from healthcare staff. As healthcare staff it is illegal to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The NHS has a legal duty to treat people fairly. Unfortunately, because these inequalities still exist it can have a profound effect on not only these men’s quality of life but on their survival rates. We know that that large numbers of men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at a late stage of the disease which results in their chances of survival being reduced. Many of the men in the group reported they did not tell their doctor about their sexual orientation for fear of discrimination. Fear of a negative experience often leads to some men to delay or avoid early detection making it harder to treat their prostate cancer.