Healthcare professionals in England have been informed that they will be required to ask patients over 16 about their sexual orientation.
According to NHS England, no patient will be forced to answer the question but has been designed to ensure that “no patient is discriminated against”.
The new NHS guidelines apply to doctors and nurses, as well as social care workers for local councils. An NHS spokesperson said the information would help NHS bodies comply with equality legislation by “consistently collecting, only where relevant, personal details of patients such as race, sex and sexual orientation.”
Under the guidance, health professionals will ask patients: “Which of the following options best describes how you think of yourself?”
The available answers include heterosexual or straight, gay or lesbian, bisexual, other sexual orientation, not sure, not stated and not known.
However, the new guidelines have been met with mixed reactions, with the Family Doctor Association claiming it was “potentially intrusive and offensive” for GPs to monitor people’s sexuality.
NHS England said lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people were “disproportionately affected” by poor mental health and high risks of self-harm and suicide.
It said the public sector had a legal obligation to take into account the needs of LGB people under the Equality Act 2010.
“Collecting and analysing data on sexual orientation allows public sector bodies to better understand, respond to and improve LGB patients’ service access,” the guidance states.
Paul Martin, chief executive of Manchester’s LGBT Foundation, who worked on the new initiative, said he was ‘proud’ of the sexual orientation monitoring. He said in a statement: “If we’re not counted, we don’t count.”
Manchester’s LGBT Foundation also explained that “some people will feel uncomfortable asking or being asked” about their sexuality, but that if they chose not to answer, ‘not stated’ would be recorded as their response.
NHS England expects sexual orientation monitoring to be in place across hospitals across England by April 2019.