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Doctors neglect gay and bisexual men, health survey reveals

Doctors concentrate on sexual health but neglect mental and physical health

Louise Prime

Monday, 30 April 2012

The GMC has reminded doctors of their duty to avoid discrimination, after a survey of gay and bisexual men showed that their health needs are often neglected. Respondents reported higher than average levels of domestic abuse, mental ill health and use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, but said that services tended to focus purely on sexual health.

Stonewall had responses from 6861 gay and bisexual men from across Britain to its health survey, the largest ever conducted. This showed that a third of gay and bisexual men who have accessed healthcare services in the past year have had a negative experience related to their sexual orientation; and a third of gay and bisexual men are not out to their GP or healthcare professionals – they are more likely to be out to their manager, colleagues, family and friends than their GP.

Unmet health needs are common among gay and bisexual men. In the past year, 3% of gay men and 5% of bisexual men had attempted suicide, compared with 0.4% of men generally. One in six gay and bisexual men aged 16-24 have harmed themselves in the past year.

The survey also showed that:

  • Only one in ten gay and bisexual men have ever discussed prostate or bowel cancer with a healthcare professional and only 3% have ever discussed lung cancer
  • Only one in ten have ever discussed heart disease with a healthcare professional, and only one in five have ever discussed high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Two-thirds of gay and bisexual men have smoked at some time in their life compared with half of men in general
  • 42% of gay and bisexual men drink alcohol on three or more days a week compared with 35% of men in general
  • Half of gay and bisexual men have taken drugs in the past year, compared with one in eight men in general
  • One in four gay and bisexual men have never been tested for any sexually transmitted infection, and three in ten have never had an HIV test
  • Only a quarter said that healthcare workers had given them information relevant to their sexual orientation
  • Half of the men surveyed had experienced domestic abuse from a family member or partner, compared with 17% of men in general.

Stonewall’s chief executive Ben Summerskill said: “Britain’s 1.8 million gay and bisexual men are being let down by health services which often see homosexuality and bisexuality purely as sexual health issues. As a result hundreds of thousands of gay and bisexual men are in dire need of better support from health professionals.”

The GMC’s chief executive Niall Dickson (pictured) said: “This survey highlights examples of poor treatment and care experienced by gay and bisexual men from doctors and other health professionals. Instances such as these are completely unacceptable.

Our core guidance, Good Medical Practice makes it absolutely clear that doctors must never discriminate unfairly against patients.”

The GMC has produced with Stonewall an information leaflet that explains to lesbian, gay and bisexual patients what they should expect from their doctor.

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