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Government distances itself from study advising GPs to use gender-neutral pronouns

by Eliza Parr
24 February 2023

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The Department of Health and Social Care has distanced itself from a Government-funded study that concluded GPs should use gender-neutral pronouns until a patient’s identity had been confirmed.

The guidance, put together by academics at King’s College London (KCL), looked at how clinicians could use more inclusive language to improve the experience of LGBT+ patients.

It was commissioned to KCL with a reported £165,00 grant from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), a government-funded body.

The ‘evidence-based guidance’ advises healthcare professionals to avoid making assumptions before they know how a patient identifies, and it includes a foreword calling it a ‘must-read’ by NHS England’s advisor for LGBT health, Dr Michael Brady. 

It was published in August 2022, but according to the Daily Mailhealth secretary Steve Barclay ‘hit the roof’ when he became aware of the guidance over the weekend, and ordered an investigation due to concerns about this use of taxpayers’ money.

The 16-page document, named the ‘ABC of LGBT+ Inclusive Communication’, includes tips such as using neutral language, asking open questions and seeking permission to record certain information. 

Under the section advising clinicians to ask rather than assume, the guide says: ‘While assuming may feel the less daunting option for you, it transfers the onus of whether to share sexual orientation, gender identity or gender history to the patient, either now or in the future. 

‘[…] Assumptions can damage the trusting, professional relationship you are trying to build and maintain, and may cause patients to become disengaged in their care.’

It also suggests, before being sure of how someone identifies, using terms such as ‘they’ or ‘them’ when talking about patients or their significant others, as well as asking what a patient’s title is instead of assuming a gendered title, such as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, is applicable. 

In his foreword to the document, Dr Brady said ‘LGBT+ people face inequalities in every area of healthcare’ and while ‘there is much that the “system” needs to do to address this, there are simple things that every health and social care professional can do to ensure they deliver inclusive care’.

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘This guide has not been endorsed by the Government.

‘We have been clear that removing language around biological sex has the potential for unintended adverse health consequences.’

A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse.