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Equality in Healthcare: Private Hospital Group Commits to Same-Sex Care for All Patients

Equality in Healthcare: Private Hospital Group Commits to Same-Sex Care for All Patients
Friday, 15 December 2023 19:24

In a groundbreaking move, one of the UK's largest private hospital groups, HCA, has taken a significant step towards ensuring same-sex care for its patients. The group has revised its policies, explicitly committing to providing intimate care by a staff member of the same "sex" rather than the same "gender." This nuanced approach means that a trans woman would only provide personal care to a female patient if explicit consent is given or in emergency situations.

This policy adjustment follows an incident where HCA had to issue an apology to patient Teresa Steele after her operation was canceled when she insisted on receiving intimate care exclusively from biological women. HCA's commitment to same-sex care is considered a pioneering move in the healthcare sector, prompting calls for the National Health Service (NHS) to adopt similar policies.

Currently, many NHS trusts provide care based on gender rather than biological sex, raising concerns about the placement of biological men on female-only wards based on self-defined gender identity. Former Health Secretary Steve Barclay had previously pledged to reintroduce "sex-specific" language to the NHS and prevent transgender women from being treated on female-only wards.

Teresa Steele, expressing her satisfaction with HCA's changes, emphasized the need for other healthcare providers and the NHS to adopt similar protections, citing concerns about the safety and dignity of women. The discussion is part of a broader conversation about adhering to UK equality law and addressing the unique safeguarding needs based on biological sex.

Support for Steele's calls comes from the campaign group Sex Matters, highlighting the importance of ensuring that female patients, regardless of their ability to access private healthcare, do not have to compromise on receiving intimate care from biological men.

HCA, a significant private healthcare provider, also extends its services to the NHS. As pressure mounts for a paradigm shift in healthcare policies, this move by HCA sets a precedent that could influence the broader healthcare landscape, including the NHS, which is expected to open a £100 million private hospital in partnership with the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust next year.

In a pivotal turn of events, Ms. Teresa Steele's challenging ordeal at The Princess Grace in London has sparked significant policy changes at the healthcare facility. Scheduled for a complex abdominal operation on October 10 last year, Ms. Steele explicitly outlined her need for single-sex lavatories and bathrooms in her admission forms, signaling her preference for biological women in her care team. However, during her pre-op assessment on October 6, a trans nurse, not involved in her care, entered her private examination room. In response, Ms. Steele requested that only biological women be involved in her care, leading to the unexpected cancellation of her operation, with accusations of discrimination against the nurse.

The decision to cancel, coupled with subsequent treatment delays, resulted in severe health complications for Ms. Steele, prompting her to call for policy changes to protect other women in similar situations. The hospital later issued an apology, and Ms. Steele offered to forego legal action if the hospital updated its policies. The updated privacy and dignity policy, implemented in October and reviewed by The Telegraph, now ensures that patients are provided with a same-sex colleague for physical medical examinations, intimate care, or procedures unless impossible, such as in a medical emergency. The policy includes exceptions for intensive care and specialist medical staff, with informed consent required in those cases.

The revised policy also emphasizes dignity based on all characteristics protected under the Equality Act, a notable shift from the previous focus on "gender" rather than "gender reassignment" or "sex." Notably, the new policy eliminates the guarantee to treat individuals in a way that "values and respects" their "gender needs." Additionally, HCA has introduced a new chaperone policy, emphasizing same-sex chaperones where possible, with no mention of gender in the 12-page document.

These changes reflect a significant response to Ms. Steele's experience, underscoring the hospital's commitment to ensuring patient dignity, privacy, and respect in line with equality laws.

Ms. Teresa Steele, who navigated a challenging experience at The Princess Grace in London, commends the HCA for implementing what she terms a "gold standard" policy, heralding a new era in same-sex care guarantees. Advocating for increased awareness, she encourages fellow patients to proactively inquire about their healthcare providers' policies on intimate care. Recognizing the broader implications, Ms. Steele, in collaboration with the newly founded group Caring About Dignity, aims to support women who have faced victimization for requesting same-sex care, particularly those with disabilities.

Ms. Steele sheds light on concerning stories from disabled women and carers who have faced care package removals and denials of care within the NHS for insisting on same-sex intimate care. Her collaboration with Caring About Dignity seeks to address these challenges and provide a support network for affected women. She highlights the issue within the NHS, citing self-identification policies reminiscent of the Scottish prison system.

Helen Joyce, the director of advocacy at Sex Matters, welcomes the policy change, noting its potential relief for HCA and NHS patients fortunate enough to be referred there. She underscores the importance of same-sex care in various services and draws attention to the existing inequity, where those unable to access private services are compelled to accept individuals who identify as women to provide intimate care. Joyce sees HCA's stance as a global step back from institutionalized transactivism, emphasizing the need for the NHS to follow suit promptly.

In response, an NHS England spokesman reassures that patients can request same-sex care, and updated Same Sex Accommodation guidance will be published following the results of a DHSC consultation. The evolving landscape reflects a broader shift towards prioritizing patient preferences and ensuring dignity, resonating with Ms. Steele's advocacy for a more inclusive and considerate healthcare environment.

In conclusion, Ms. Teresa Steele's impactful journey at The Princess Grace in London has spurred positive change in healthcare policies, with the HCA adopting a "gold standard" for same-sex care guarantees. Applauding the HCA's progressive stance, Ms. Steele encourages patients to be proactive about understanding their healthcare providers' policies on intimate care. Her collaboration with Caring About Dignity seeks to support women who, like her, have faced challenges in requesting same-sex care.

Ms. Steele sheds light on broader issues within the NHS, where disabled women and carers have encountered hurdles such as care package removals and denials of care for insisting on same-sex intimate care. Helen Joyce of Sex Matters welcomes the policy change, emphasizing its potential relief for HCA and NHS patients and urging the NHS to follow suit globally. The commitment to same-sex care reflects a step away from institutionalized transactivism.

As the NHS promises to update Same Sex Accommodation guidance, the evolving landscape underscores a broader shift toward prioritizing patient preferences, dignity, and inclusivity. Ms. Steele's advocacy serves as a catalyst for positive change in healthcare environments, fostering an environment where patients' rights to same-sex care are respected and upheld.

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