The Deputy Chief Medical Officer and National Lead for Adult Health and Wellbeing update on their work to improve the health and wellbeing on bisexual and lesbian women.
In June we hosted a roundtable discussion of academics, community practitioners and public health professionals to discuss lesbian and bisexual women’s health and wellbeing.
The roundtable built on the Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report 2014 – The Health of the 51%: Women, which highlighted the inequalities in women’s health in England, including specific reference to lesbian and bisexual women in the context of gender based violence.
One of the challenges for lesbian and bisexual women is that unlike gay and bisexual men there is not a single disease issue like HIV that the community has been able to coalesce around. The reality is that there are multiple issues where there is growing evidence of inequalities affecting lesbian and bisexual women including mental health, gender based violence and alcohol misuse. In many cases these are issues where there are existing gender inequalities. Many of these issues were highlighted in the LGBT Companion to the Public Health Outcomes Framework and the LGBT Companion to the Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework continue to be flagged in national and local needs assessments and reports.
However there are real limitations to the evidence base caused by the lack of routine sexual orientation monitoring in the major cohort studies and research trials. This can become a vicious circle – if we don’t include sexual orientation in monitoring and data collection in research then we don’t have the findings and evidence which can potentially result in this group being further marginalised through invisibility.
One of the really exciting opportunities to break this cycle currently in the pipeline is the work between the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England to develop an information standard for the NHS on sexual orientation which we hope will be published in spring 2017. This will support NHS organisations to collect sexual orientation alongside ethnicity, faith and other demographics in routine health data which will allow us at a national level to understand the level of inequality affecting lesbian, bisexual and gay people and at a local level allow commissioners to reflect on whether their services are truly inclusive and accessible to the local LGB community.
The discussion at the meeting was broad and wide ranging and explored four areas for potential action:
- Inclusion in research demographics
- Supporting services specifically for LBQ women’s health or explicitly including and addressing LBQ women’s needs
- Championing greater awareness of LBQ mental health issues
- Highlighting sexual and reproductive health issues
We are both committed to work with the group and the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England strategic partnership with the National LGBT Partnership to build on these conversations to support action to raise understanding of inequalities affecting lesbian and bisexual women and how we can work together to close the gap.
This is a guest post from Dr Gina Radford, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health, and Dr Justin Varney, National Lead for Adult Health & Wellbeing, Public Health England.