NHS Pride? This pledge is a shameful insult

@glesga_keelie says the last thing Scotland’s NHS needs is a divisive badge

When I was 27, I was called for cervical screening for the first time.

I was working in a relatively small town at the time and only out as a lesbian to a small group of family and close friends.

A couple of years earlier I’d been stung by what I now know to be a serious breach of confidentiality but at the time felt more like personal betrayal.

I had bumped into the receptionist at my then-GP surgery at a mutual friend’s party. And, unknown to me, she decided to read my medical notes when she got back to work, then tell our mutual friend that I was a lesbian – before I had decided whether this was something I wanted to trust that friend with myself.

Professional courtesy at all times

So, it was with some trepidation that I went for that first smear. The prospect of being invaded by a piece of metal in the chill of a consulting room held zero appeal, but I felt even more dread about possibly having to explain my sexual orientation and have it written down in my records again for anyone to read.

I need not have worried. The nurses could not have been more professional, courteous or matter of fact in dealing with me and my information.

Bear in mind, this is almost 30 years ago when homosexuality was still something to be frowned upon, when Aids was wreaking deadly havoc in the lives of mainly gay men, when Section 28 (or Clause 2a as it was in Scotland) banning local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality was the law of the land.

Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges

Fast forward to today and the Scottish Government – in conjunction with the now-controversial LGBT charity Stonewall – has announced the NHS Pride pledge.

The campaign asks staff in the NHS in Scotland to sign a pledge showing their support for the LGBT+ community and wear a badge proving their allyship. According to Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, the pledge is about ensuring NHS staff don’t face discrimination and prejudice at work, while “staff and patients alike should be free to be their true selves, safe in the knowledge that they will be listened to and not judged”.

‘You will go on the list’

Having had an adverse experience all those years ago, you might think I’d be all over such an idea. After all, what sounds better than being greeted by a health professional with a welcoming smile and a badge that says you’re in a safe space?

Just about anything, in my opinion.

There is so much about this particular NHS Pride plan that makes me not only uncomfortable but angry.

The NHS staff who do take the “pledge” (and there’s so much old-school religion about that phrase) will be asked to monitor the behaviour of colleagues. What the actual? So if you don’t want to take a visible stance or you object to the politicisation of our national health service, you run the risk of a colleague clyping on you to the bosses?

And then what? Your name goes on a list? You’re disciplined or taken away for re-education?

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Political cynicism in action

Then there’s that politicisation. Politicians have always used the NHS to win votes or boost their popularity. But few are as blatant as today’s SNP government. Whether it’s delaying the letters sent out to the over 70s for the Covid-19 vaccine so they could go out in blue envelopes or paying a £500 bonus to NHS staff, the Scottish Government is as cynical as any other in its use of the health service for political capital.

Nurses, doctors and other medical professionals are already bound by professional codes of practice, conduct and ethics. If there was a serious issue with prejudice against LGBT+ colleagues and patients in the Scottish NHS, do you think there is a snowball’s chance in hell we wouldn’t already know about it?

Why are the unions and professional bodies not objecting strenuously to this suggestion that not only is the workplace unsafe but they can’t be trusted not to be courteous to patients?

Don’t get me started on the empty gesture of a badge while Scotland’s health inequalities yawn wider, hospital waiting lists grow and staff shortages go unfilled.

Singling out a minority again

I have used NHS services innumerable times since that dreadful breach of confidence 30 years ago.

Every single time I have been treated with courtesy, professionalism and compassion, my sexual orientation only ever mentioned when it’s relevant.

My experience is only my experience, but as I said, if we had an issue with bigotry and discrimination in Scotland’s NHS, we would know about it.

Launching a pledge like NHS Pride is not only an insult to those work in the NHS, it infantilises and makes victims of those of us counted under that damn LGBT+ umbrella.

We are no longer that historical persecuted minority, unable to seek healthcare, humiliated by bigoted medical staff or criminalised for our sexual orientation.

This insulting pledge is more shame than pride. Bin it and stop singling us out as a minority again.

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