Stuart Andrew: LGBT people must not face barriers in end-of-life care

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Conservative MP Stuart Andrew writes for PinkNews about why improvements must be made to the end of life care for LGBT people.

Society, as a whole, has become more accepting of LGBT people over the last three decades. The majority of people in our country now support same-sex marriage. By contrast, in the 1980s, the majority of people thought that homosexuality was morally wrong.

But there are still pockets of intense prejudice against LGBT people, which means that the experience of hate crime, for example, is unfortunately still more prevalent than it should be, particularly for trans people.

There are also more subtle forms of discrimination, that can happen when you least expect them.

Sometimes very subtle, but still profoundly hurtful and damaging. Research has found that LGBT people can often experience this kind of discrimination when using health and social care services.

It is not as rare as it should be to encounter a doctor or nurse who implies or explicitly expressed disapproval of someone’s sexuality of gender identity.

A report published today by the charity Marie Curie, which I’m championing with my Parliamentary colleagues, looks specifically at the experience of LGBT people who have a terminal illness.

This is, after all, when people are at their most vulnerable, and often when they need the most support from health and social care services.

Interestingly, the report shows that LGBT people are likely to delay or avoid using hospice and palliative care services – those are services that help with symptom control and work towards giving someone the best possible quality of life when they are dying – because they fear being discriminated against.

In a way, this isn’t surprising as older LGBT people have lived through times when being open about their sexuality or gender identity could lead to isolation, violence, and imprisonment, so they are more likely to fear discrimination than young LGBT people who have grown up in more accepting times.

However, Marie Curie’s report shows that these fears of discrimination are not necessarily unfounded, with older LGBT people sharing real and troubling experiences of discrimination, including a doctor who refused to provide care for a lesbian patient without a chaperone and another doctor who outed a trans patient to an entire ward of people.

People also spoke of a pervasive assumption from health and social care staff of heterosexuality, with doctors and nurses assuming that a partner was sibling for example. Marie Curie found that many older LGBT people handled this situation by not correcting the assumption and not showing affection to their partner.

This should never be the case. At the end of life, we should all be free to be who we are and be able to express who we are with the people we love. Not being able to do that is incredibly damaging to the person who has a terminal illness, but also to the people they leave behind.

Before becoming a Member of Parliament, I worked mainly in the hospice movement. Whether it was for adults or children, the provision of palliative care changed, adapted and improved drastically over a decade.

I cannot imagine a story like the above happening, and the effect this would have had on the patient. Hospices should be there for people of all backgrounds, regardless of any orientation or gender identity. This is something that some hospices and services clearly need to work on.

For that reason I am joining with Marie Curie today to call on NHS England to do more to ensure that LGBT people at the end of life are able to be cared for and die while being supported to be who they are with the people they love.

No one should have to ‘go back in’ or pretend to be someone other than themselves at the end of their lives. Everyone has the right to feel comfortable, supported and dignified in their final months, regardless of their sexuality or gender.

Stuart Andrew is the MP for Pudsey and a patron of LGBTory.

If you are concerned about accessing appropriate palliative care for yourself, or a loved one, you can contact Marie Curie’s helpline for free, confidential information and support on 0800 090 2309 (Calls are free from landlines and mobiles)