I lead a course on later life and health promotion; one of the topics covered was the care needs of older gay and lesbian people. We had an external speaker for part of the lecture who shared his experience as an older gay man when his partner was in hospital. At the end of each lecture students are asked to write a blog sharing their views.
The students on my course blogged that older people care needs are often overlooked as the sexuality of older people is generally not incorporated as part of care needs as physical and functional care becomes the focus. Some blogged about equality and diversity training for care staff, others on the lack of intergenerational support, one student blogged on coming out of a closeted period to an open era and that the person concerned may not always feel confortable with this openness and due consideration is needed when caring for older LGBT patients.
On reflection of the students blogs’ I went into my clinical practice area and started to make notes on how we care for people based on sexual orientation, by talking to colleagues, most gave the textbook answers but also said that it can be difficult. I beg to differ simple actions such as including the partner or close friends, asking partners how you can call or refer to them, sends the message that you recognise the value of gay and lesbian relationships. One colleague said to me we may find that older people who have lived an openly gay lifestyle may find themselves re-entering a ‘closeted’ lifestyle so that they are not discriminated against. This simply means that an older person may hide their sexual orientation for fear of not receiving equal care. What is equal care I hear you ask? Simply put you treat each patient regardless of their age, gender, race, ability, social class, sexual orientation, or any other labels they may be assigned in the same manner, with the same respect and care afforded to all. Importantly that particular patient should feel confortable to express their care needs and wishes to the health professional with no fear of different treatment. I wonder how much the change in legislation to gay and lesbian couples in terms of civil partnerships, unions and marriage has impacted on the way we provide care to this group of patients. The change in legislation may boost confidence in older gay and lesbian patients to express themselves and who and how they want to be cared for. The point I’m trying to make is that people’s sexual orientation is central to who they are and how they will like to be treated.
In last week’s blog and #EBNJC Nova Corcoran discussed hard to reach groups, and the strategies that we employ to meet the public health and health promotion needs of such groups. One participant @BenScott said he works with older people and falls in a rural community, can you imagine the double isolation the older person who is gay or lesbian may experience in such situations? I live and work in London and most, not all times the majority of the general population is accepting of such groups but in rural community without the right support networks and training for staff such groups access and health care treatment can be adversely affected.
My final thoughts are where is the evidence in caring for such groups, in the UK we have set up link/champion roles for ward nurses such as infection control, manual handling, diabetes etc. The time has come for hospitals to show their commitment to caring for gay and lesbian patients and have a gay champion in wards and departments.