Gay health: access to healthcare

If you're gay or have same-sex partners, it's just as important for you as for anyone else to use NHS services to keep yourself healthy.

It's a good idea to tell your doctor if you're gay, lesbian or bisexual. If your doctor knows about your sexuality or sexual preferences, it's easier to discuss your life, relationships and health concerns. They can also keep an eye out for any health problems relevant to you.

Studies have shown that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are reluctant to talk openly to their GP and may avoid appointments because of fear of prejudice.

If you don't want to go to your GP, you could use genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics for your general healthcare needs, not just your sexual health, if you feel these services are more accepting of your lifestyle.

But many GPs are lesbian, gay or bisexual themselves, or have friends, relatives or colleagues who are.

As a gay man or woman, you may face homophobia. Clinicians, such as nurses and doctors, occasionally react poorly to a patient who comes out to them. This can be because of ignorance or prejudice.

Either way, it's unacceptable and illegal. Both the NHS and the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, are clear that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. If this happens to you, the best thing to do is to make a complaint immediately.

Why it’s important to be open with your GP

Research shows higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among gay or bisexual men

Although gay and bisexual people share the same health needs as heterosexuals, there are some key differences.

Research shows higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as syphilis and gonorrhoea, among gay or bisexual men.

Research also shows that some gay people use more alcohol and drugs than heterosexuals.

A lifetime of feeling 'different' or being treated differently can affect your mental wellbeing and have an impact on your physical health, such as high blood pressure and eating disorders. It can also lead to self-harm.

Don’t miss out on vital services

According to Dr Justin Varney, a public health consultant at Barking and Dagenham Primary Care Trust, there are important health services that lesbians, gays and bisexuals should take up, including regular and routine check-ups for blood pressure, STIs and different cancers.

In addition, gay and bisexual men are more at risk of hepatitis B and should have a hepatitis B vaccination.

Find out more about health checks for men and women.

Where to go for medical advice

Choosing a GP
Your choice of doctor is usually restricted by where you live, although there may be many surgeries to choose from. Some things to consider are:

  • opening hours and how easy it is to get an appointment
  • the number of doctors in the clinic (it may be easier to get an appointment at a larger surgery) 
  • the gender of the doctor, if you have a preference

When visiting the surgery, keep an eye out for any posters or reading material that are particularly relevant to lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.

Ask if the doctors have had any recent equality training and if the practice has an equality policy that includes sexual orientation. You have the right to complain if you feel you have been discriminated against.

Find a GP near you.

Sexual health clinics
Genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics are specifically for sexual health. The services at NHS GUM clinics are free of charge and you don't have to provide personal details, such as your real name.

Find your local sexual health services.

NHS walk-in centres
These give you access to health advice and treatment for minor illnesses or injuries. You don't need an appointment or to be registered.

They're run by experienced NHS nurses and are usually open every day of the year. They provide a variety of services including treatment for minor illnesses and injuries such as colds, infections (non-sexual), cuts and sprains. 

Find your local NHS walk-in centre.

Transgender issues

The term 'transgender' or ‘trans’ refers to a diverse community of people, ranging from cross-dressers to transsexual people who undergo gender reassignment surgery. Like lesbians, gays and bisexuals, trans people often face prejudice, isolation and limited understanding of their lives.

These experiences place many trans people at risk of alcohol abuse, depression, suicide, self-harm, violence, substance abuse and HIV. A lot of the information in this section will be relevant to trans people. Find out more about transgender health.

Find local gender and sexuality support services.

Gay healthcare

Learn about the challenges and concerns that gay and bisexual men can face when needing to use healthcare services.

Media last reviewed: 11/07/2013

Next review due: 11/07/2015

Page last reviewed: 09/06/2012

Next review due: 09/06/2014

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

MCB65 said on 30 August 2012

In the article it says some doctors may be bi, gay or lesbian (BGL). Come on please. How many doctors are there in the UK? It stands to reason that a percentage of them will be BGL. The article says hey it's OK to be BGL and receive NHS care. Too right! We have a moral right to it and currently we are afforded a legal right to equal treatment. This article is full of the usual standard bigotry and stereotyping faced daily by BGL people. We are to be solely identified by our sexual preferences. Straight people are described in numerous ways. They are human beings with a particular sexual preference. Why is it if your bi, gay or lesbian you have to be defined in those terms? I am a human being. I have a particular sexual preference. Being gay does not determine who I am. I am a graduate, I have a professional job, I'm in a happy long-term stable relationship, I have hobbies, I go on holiday, I go to the pub, cinema, theatre, etc. My entire life is not absorbed by sex. I'm not gay: I'm human. Another aspect of this article further repeats the usual bigotry. Because of our sexual orientation we belong to a group in society that has frequent, casual sexual encounters. This annoys me so much! Just because you like the same sex or both does not mean your lifestyle is more focused on constant sex with any willing party. No just because you’re BGL you won't get more STIs and you don't need Hep B vaccine. Whatever your gender, age, or ethnicity if you have frequent, unprotected sex with multiple partners you're at high risk of STIs, HIV, Hep B and other blood borne viruses. Straight folks don't listen to this – your health – may depend on it – you're just as much as risk as any other human. If you’re BGL be very careful before you tell anyone in the NHS about your sexuality. You're at high risk of being discriminated against. I know; unfortunately, I have firsthand experience. This article has been framed around typical bigotry and stereotyping – not hard facts!

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ruby said on 23 August 2008

it,s good to see that lesbian,gay, bisexual, and transgender orientation is included on this site, and that relevant health information and facts are given for us. The importance of coming out to your GP is very informative, and well written. i was also pleased to read the fact that some of the NHS staff we see such as Doctors, nurses, etc ..are themselves gay / lesbian. Gay people are in every walk of life, but it can still be difficult to be honest and reveal this to medical staff, because there is the fear of discrimination at the back of your mind. I recently read on the General Medical Council,s website that it is not always easy for medical staff to come out as lesbian, gay etc...because of the same issues that we the patients feel. As you clearly say much has already been done to help gay people be accepted. I would like to see more inclusive representation in every doctors waiting room of health issues and services specifically for lesbian/ gay patients.. this as you say helps someone like me feel already more included and can then lead to a greater possibility of breaking down the barrier of silence about your real life health needs as a lesbian / gay person. My doctors surgery used to display some relevant information but it was removed and never displayed again. I was left wondering why? Fear of prejudice and discrimination prevented me from asking. The issue for me about coming out with my doctor is that it is then most probably put on your medical records and whilst your current doctor may well be totally accepting of your being lesbian / gay, can you be sure that other health care staff will be ? As you make clear in your information on this website there are some people who are still prejudiced unfortunately. Heterosexual people don,t feel the need to hide their sexual orientation, but some lesbian / gay people still feel the need to hide this important fact from health care staff.

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