The Mary Seacole Research Group (MSRC) at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) have released a unique report showing LGBT cancer patients have poorer experiences of care than heterosexual patients. The report, entitled ‘Improving the Cancer Journey for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans People’, aims to ensure there is sufficient support, advice and consideration for LGBT cancer patients and to improve their health and wellbeing during treatment and contribute to their quality of life in survivorship. There are more than two million people in the UK currently living with cancer and it is estimated that 40,000 of these are LGBT people. The report is based on interviews with 17 LGB people, there were no transgender people available for participation, who had gone through cancer treatment either directly or as a patient’s partner. The conclusions and findings made in the report were reached from their anecdotal evidence. Professor Julie Fish, Director of the MSRC, said: “We’re determined to improve the care and support for LGBT patients because there is clear evidence that they have poorer experiences of care when compared with heterosexual patients.” According to the study, the main issue regarding LGB cancer patients’ journeys through the care process was the added layer of stress caused by deciding whether or not to ‘come out’ to their healthcare professionals. Some participants experienced subtle discrimination within the hospital environment during their cancer treatment, with one man experiencing explicit animosity from his doctor. One participant, Quentin, discussed how he became aware when hospital staff expressed nonverbal disapproval of his sexuality. He said: “You pick up very quickly that you are deemed not to be approved of, for want of a better term, and we picked that up straight away.”
There were concerns for participants about what the reaction would be if questions were asked about what the impact of prostate cancer treatment would be for the sexual function of gay men. Important questions were often not asked by participants because they were too anxious. One participant, Karl, said: “I didn’t feel comfortable asking all the ins and outs about the sexual side of things. I think if I’d known that the consultant sitting opposite me was a gay man I would’ve been completely open but I suppose, really, I didn’t want any negative reaction.” Another participant, Nicholas, spoke of how the processes taken in relation to patient intake forms offered no acknowledgement that LGBT people could have specific experiences or concerns, different to those of heterosexual patients. Nicholas said: “The treatment could render you infertile, and her words were ‘well, I knew you were together but I have to ask the questions because I have to make sure that the form is completed."
“We weren’t given an option of ‘do you want to talk about fertility?’ It was ‘I need to ask you about this because it’s on the form’.” The MSRC’s report concluded that: “It is apparent that the anticipation of potentially negative responses to the disclosure of sexual orientation, and second guessing about the intent of any comments and interactions, adds another layer of stress to LGB’s interactions with medical staff.” Following their research, the MSRC has made several recommendations for healthcare practice ensuring professionals are supported, encouraging equality for LGBT people right the way through their cancer treatment making sure medical training includes content relevant to LGBT care.
Sarah Thomson, cochair of the DMU LGBT network, said: “I am very proud to work for an institution which undertakes research into areas that have such a profound impact on people’s lives. “The healthcare of LGBT people is not understood or talked about enough and Professor Fish’s research into this area is more than welcome. “LGBT staff and students are users of healthcare services and have the right to the same level of care as everybody else – studies like Julie’s help to expose where this care is not on a par and begin the conversation of how to bring about positive change to the experiences of LGBT service users.” The MSRC held a public conference to report their finding at DMU last week which represented an excellent networking opportunity and thought provoking discussion.
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