Dr Justin Varney, National Lead for Adult Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England and Public Health England Rainbow Alliance Executive Member, looks back on PHE’s LBGT journey since it was formed in 2013.

Over the last three years PHE Rainbow Alliance has grown and built on the legacy and experiences of staff from the previous LGBT staff networks from the sender organisations. We have benefited from very strong and visible commitment to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans issues in both our internal and external work from our chief executive Duncan Selbie, National Executive LGBT Champion Prof. Kevin Fenton and our Corporate Director of HR, Tony Vickers-Byrne. This support is reiterated during corporate inclusion for all staff and through our internet pages on diversity and inclusion. We also have a corporate objective to see year on year improvement in our Stonewall Equality Index ranking and score. I’m really proud that we saw significant improvements between the 2014 and 2015 scores.

The network is supported by a small group of volunteers, and as I’m sure many others find, this can sometimes be challenging with the day job. But we have a clear organisational policy that allows staff to attend diversity networks during working time. Over the last year we have also supported line managers to agree specific objectives for some staff to support the work of PHERA and our PHERA Allies Networks.

We have staff working in over 100 different locations, mainly in England, so we have relied on CSRA’s regional networks to provide networking and engagement opportunities in areas where we only have a few members – this has really helped support people and reduce the risk of isolation. We have joined the CSRA group at London Pride as well as supporting our doctor members march with the Gay & Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists.

We have also encouraged PHERA members to help influence and get involved with external PHE work. We worked with the National LGBT Health Partnership, to host a national LGBT health inequalities conference in 2015 and 2016. We also published some important reports and documents on LGB&T health issues where members have been actively involved such as; joint toolkits with the Royal College of Nursing on LGB&T youth suicide prevention, a national framework for tackling health inequalities affecting gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and a suite of trans health living guides with the Partnership.

PHERA members have been involved in planning and supporting the Deputy Chief Medical Officer to convene a roundtable on lesbian and bisexual women’s health inequalities. PHERA and PHERA Allies members also supported work to undertake a systematic review of health inequalities affecting lesbian and bisexual women which we hope to publish next year.

Each year at the annual PHE National Conference at Warwick, PHERA hosts a breakfast roundtable chaired by our Board Champion, Professor Fenton. Last year we were joined by members from across the organisation, the third sector, public health specialists and local government leads. The roundtable is an opportunity for external and internal stakeholders to shape the thinking of PHERA for the year ahead as well as influence the wider work of PHE on LGBT health inequalities. We’ve started to build on this for our London members with monthly social lunches that bring together people on a more regular face to face basis.

It was great in 2017 to have two PHERA member’s work on diversity and inclusion celebrated at the PHE Diversity and Inclusion Awards. I was personally very honoured to be given a special award by the PHE board for my contribution to promoting staff diversity and inclusion since the formation of PHE. The award highlighted my work with PHERA and how we are practicing what we preach internally as well as promoting inclusion externally.

Looking ahead we aim to strengthen the capacity within the organisation to support PHERA, provide more opportunities for staff to network and engage with each other and continue to work towards an even higher rating in the Stonewall Equality Index!


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