‘Absolutely shameful’ NHS England report disturbingly compares being LGBT+ to having a disability

NHS England officials were embroiled in controversy after a document appeared to compare being LGBT+ to being disabled. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A major National Health Service (NHS) England document released 30 July drew intense criticism from healthcare providers and queer activists after it appeared to characterise being LGBT+ as having a disability.

Led by NHS England, NHS Improvement, an agency which monitors the healthcare system’s trusts and providers, and Health Education England, We are the NHS: People Plan for 2020/21 – action for us all offers a blueprint for better supporting frontline medics in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic.

But tucked alongside initiatives to boost recruitment within the 51-page document, was a single line that compared being LGBT+ to being disabled.

NHS England plan wonkily compares being LGBT+ to having a disability. Healthcare leaders and providers are not impressed.

In outlining NHS England’s Workforce Disability Equality Standard – metrics that gauge how the NHS treats disabled staffers –  the plan notes that the set of measures have “begun to shine a light on the difficulties that colleagues with disabilities and long-term health conditions face”.

“But there remain challenges,” it continued. “For example, we know that the majority of staff who identify as LGBT+ do not feel confident enough to report their sexuality on their employment record.”

Various senior health bosses and healthcare providers were quick to denounce the passage, with many stressing that the comparison implied by the paper was “shameful” and “unacceptable”.

“Absolutely support the focus on inclusion and marginalised groups,” Harrogate and District Foundation Trust chief executive Steve Russell said on Twitter, “but ‘surprised’ is the politest word I can find to explain the NHS People Plan suggesting (even accidentally) that being LGBT+ is a disability or [long-term condition].”

As confusion mingled with rage among healthcare leaders, Russell’s comments were amplified by Jackie Daniel, who runs Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Trust.

She wrote on Twitter that she had to do a “double-take” upon seeing the passage. “Not acceptable,” she said, “NHS LGBT+ staff need to be involved in next iteration

Chief nurse at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, David Melia, also torpedoed the passage, saying it was “absolutely shameful.”

“It’s crass and ill-judged,” he said, “at worst, sloppy editing at best. Either way, it’s very poor.”

Anger swelled on Twitter, as a volley of NHS staffers abraded the People Plan’s wording.

As a result of the seething backlash, NHS England amended the document. A paragraph break was inserted Thursday (6 August) before reading. “Other staff groups also face significant challenges”, and going into the sentence on queer workers.

In a statement to The Independent, Prerana Issar, NHS England’s chief people officer, said: “Unfortunately there was a drafting error which has now been corrected and I regret any upset or misunderstanding.”