Chair of the LGBTQ+ Leaders Network, Peter Molyneux, shares why we needed to create a space where difficult or complex issues can be discussed, and how the increased focus on diversity and inclusion in the NHS gives us an opportunity to amplify voices and accelerate change.
I first became a chair in the NHS in 2005. It was like waking up in an episode of Quantum Leap where I had to work out where I was and what time I had travelled back to.
In my first NHS chairs’ meeting, the chair told us that he was a great fan of westerns and went on to say: 'of course, that doesn’t include Brokeback Mountain'. My perception was that it was a culture of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ when it came to LGBTQ+ issues.
I went on my first Pride March 40 years ago (I was very young). It was a much smaller affair than today. There were boos, jeers and the occasional bottle thrown from bystanders but, mostly, there were looks of disbelief and incomprehension. I will never forget the sense of solidarity, the togetherness, and the sense, yes, of pride that came from being with others who were LGBTQ+.
The 80s and 90s brought the HIV/AIDS pandemic – I set up a housing association for people with HIV - Section 28, and the campaign to equalise the age of consent. We have come a long way since the riot at the Stonewall Inn 51 years ago. We have come a long way since the campaigns of the 80s and 90s. We have come a long way in the NHS over the past 15 years. However, there is so much more to do.
I sometimes ask colleagues what proportion of their patients are LGBTQ+, only to receive the response: 'oh, we wouldn’t ask people about their private lives'. I also get some very positive responses but that tends to be because staff know their patients rather then because the data has been collected.
In the most recent staff survey for which figures are available, 480,000 staff in the NHS said they were heterosexual, 4,000 lesbian, 5,000 bisexual and 6,000 were gay men. 31,000 preferred not to say, which is a very worrying figure. We also know that our trans siblings are facing very serious issues.
When I spend time on the front line in the NHS, I am concerned to hear that some patients do not feel that they can fully be their authentic selves and that it’s inhibiting their recovery. I also hear from frontline staff who feel that when they are on the receiving end of abuse from patients, that they do not always feel supported by their colleagues – something that BME colleagues also report. Many of these issues do not lend themselves to an e-learning module. We need to create the space within organisations and between organisations in which the kinds of issues can be discussed that lead to meaningful action.
That is why we have created the Health and Care LGBTQ+ Leaders Network. We needed to create the space to allow for difficult or complex issues to be discussed. We recognise the need for LGBTQ+ leaders and allies to be more visible, to be asking the right questions and to be listening to the broadest range of voices.
It feels as if we have reached a particular moment in the NHS. The increased focus in the NHS on inclusion and diversity provides an opportunity to amplify voices and accelerate change so that we can transform the NHS and ensure that members of the LGBTQ+ community receive the best care and work in an inclusive environment where they can thrive.
Peter Molyneux is chair of the Health and Care LGBTQ+ Leaders Network, and chair of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
Follow Peter @peterjmolyneux
Follow the network @NHSC_LGBTQ