One LB Woman’s Health Story
Published: 16 March 2017 Tags: healthcare, gp, attitudes By John Walding
Being born female I got used to certain things in medical appointments over the years
“When was your last period?” used to be a regular question from medics and consultants, in fact it was usually the first question they asked (without looking at my medical notes) despite whatever age I was! I got used to it and bore it with a smile. I was lucky enough to give birth to two sons. My experiences of the health services were to some extent dictated by my biology or gender.
I came out as a woman loving woman later in life, after a traditional marriage and two sons, so in my late thirties I began to experience medical services as a lesbian.
Sadly I found a great number of medical staff were not sensitive, or aware, of how to communicate to LGB or T patients, and often I experienced brusque, rude, or brutal interactions. I had a hysterectomy aged 29, and suffered many health challenges. Once I was with my (now wife) partner I was told on more than one occasion that I didn’t need a smear because I was lesbian, this was changed to ‘you don’t need a smear because you have had a hysterectomy’. This misinformation is still out there and many young lesbians are told they don’t need cervical smears as they don’t sleep with men. Some lesbians/gay women do sleep with men and with sensitive questions or an open approach by medical staff live could be saved.
That sounds dramatic doesn’t it, but it’s true. Lives are also at risk if women feel unheard or if there is a lack of empathy and respect and regard for them as people. I certainly have had a great number of medical encounters which have been upsetting or embarrassing.
I had to go back to the women’s health unit at a local Hospital a number of times due to a repeating prolapse, despite surgery. The last two visits had me seeing a different consultant each time. The first consultant was from a different country and their culture was difficult. I asked about the possibility of more surgery, and she said “what does your husband think?” I said ‘I have a wife and she is fine with it’ she was so visibly disturbed and embarrassed she had to leave the room. Someone else came back to take over the rest of the consultation. I decided not to proceed with further surgery as I had no confidence in the consultant. This should not happen in the 21st century but it does. We do have protection under the Equalities Act, but changing attitudes and demeanour of those interacting with us, those who we rely on for services, is a mammoth and unrelenting task.
I do wonder how many women walk away from services due to a lack of respect, understanding or appropriateness from clinicians or service providers. I do have had good experiences of medical services, my GP is excellent, and a number of my consultants are excellent (my chest consultant recently wrote to my GP to say how lovely it was to see me and my wife in the clinic) but there is still huge room for improvements in the service delivery to us none heterosexual patients. I could certainly write a book about my bad experiences, but whilst it might be helpful for some to hear them, I don’t want to dwell on the negative. I think if we focus forward and help the NHS to make the improvements it needs,if we help patients to receive appropriate care and interventions they need then we will make a more inclusive health provider and a better world.
Rosie Adamson-Clark MSc, M.Ed, M.A.
LGBT Foundation would like to thank Rosie for sharing her story which has been written and published to celebrate the first ever National Lesbian & Bisexual Women's Health Week