Diversity & Equality in Health and Care Open Access

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Lesbian and gay experiences of primary care in one borough in North London, UK

Bob Cant, Ann Taket

This paper reports the findings of a research study which explored the experiences of lesbians and gay men in relation to primary care services in general practice in a multiracial borough in North London, UK. The research took a qualitative approach and used several methods including a literature review, interviews with stakeholders (n = 6), focus group discussions (n = 27) and completion (n = 42) of a survey distributed to lesbians and gay men locally. The process facilitated the development of a grounded theory. The important themes to emerge were finding a GP and coming out, sexual health issues, mental health issues and communication with the GP. Given the high level of mobility among this population, there were problems in maintaining continuity of care, and a lack of protocols to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between patients and practitioners while reducing reliance on heterosexual assumptions. There were clear differences between the treatment of women and men in relation to sexual health, and neither approach could be said to be patient centred or inclusive of diversity of need. The fact that many informants accessed alternative sources of healthcare indicated that they were concerned to promote and maintain their health and wellbeing in a holistic manner. The lack of transparent protocols within general practice inhibited some informants from being as open and honest about their sexuality with their GPs as they were with their families or their employers. The findings highlight (1) the need for organizational development within primary care to improve sensitivity to the needs of lesbians and gay men; (2) the value of research to engage with the social experiences of lesbians and gay men; (3) the importance of engaging with the differing experiences of lesbians and gay men in relation to sexual health concerns.