Practitioners Disagree on NHS Recommendation to Ask Patients About Sexual Orientation

doctor talking to a patient
doctor talking to a patient
The NHS recommends that professionals ask their patients about their sexual orientation, although there is disagreement about this recommendation.

HealthDay News — National Health Service (NHS) England recently recommended that professionals ask all patients their sexual orientation at every opportunity, although opinions are divided on whether this is appropriate, according to an article published online in The BMJ.

Richard Ma, MBChB, from Imperial College London, and Michael Dixon, a general practitioner from Devon, both in the United Kingdom, discussed whether all patients should be asked about their sexual orientation.

According to Ma, professionals should ask patients how they define their sexuality at every encounter; asking these questions will allow lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) patients to access better health care. 

Sexual orientation monitoring is not just about sex but also about issues that unite non-heterosexual identities. In order to make health care services for LGBT patients fairer, they need to be counted, Ma writes. In contrast, Dixon feels that asking all patients about their sexuality is inappropriate. Given that NHS England maintains that asking about sexuality won’t affect patient treatment, it is unclear why patients need to be asked about their sexuality. Each general practitioner should assess whether it is appropriate to ask these questions, Dixon wrote.

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“No one doubts that there can be great health benefits from knowing a patient’s sexuality, when offered voluntarily,” Dixon wrote. “There are also many occasions when, and patients for whom, it is quite appropriate for a doctor to ask. It is the ‘all patients’ bit that is wrong.”


Ma R, Dixon M. Should all patients be asked about their sexual orientation? BMJ. 2018;360:k52