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NHS staff told using ‘he’ or ‘she’ could offend transgender people

February 2019

NHS staff in Lothian have been told to refer to patients as ‘they’ to avoid offending transgender people.

Managers have been offered training courses to show them how ‘gender neutral’ language can be ‘normalised’ in the health service.

NHS Lothian is running courses for staff in conjunction with the Scottish Trans Alliance and LGBT Health and Wellbeing.

A handout advises staff: ‘Don’t assume you know which pronouns and titles people prefer — ask what they prefer’.

Staff are being encouraged to use gender neutral language at home in their personal lives, as well as at work.

A senior figure at NHS Lothian who attended an hour-long session on December 6 last year, spoke to The Times saying: ‘They were telling us to actually refer to each other using the term ‘they’.

‘If we started using ‘they’ in our personal lives it would become natural when we go into the workplace to refer to everyone using the ‘they’ pronoun, not ‘he’ or ‘she’’.

The senior figure raised concerns with the course leader, saying she was worried about offending older patients.

‘They may feel that their dignity has been compromised, which goes against our core values of safety, dignity and respect. They couldn’t answer’.

Scottish Trans Alliance Manager James Morton confirmed that training was arranged by the health board.

Alison McCallum, director of public health and public policy at NHS Lothian, also explained about the training programmes.

She said that they were about ‘exploring the appropriate terms and definitions relating to transgender and non-binary people, including the use of non-binary pronouns’.

Meanwhile, a survey has revealed that allowing male doctors to self-identify as female deters women from accessing medical care.

The Times reported that the survey of 2,000 women, conducted by the Women and Girls in Scotland campaign group, revealed that vulnerable women felt scared and unsure about the implications of the policy.

The result indicated that women are deterred from visiting gynaecologists, or cancel appointments for smear tests and cervical cancer screenings if they cannot be seen by a woman.

One woman said: ‘I’ve already missed three smear tests because I am so scared of being presented with a male nurse’.

Another said: ‘If their definition of female and mine changes, it means that I’m unlikely to access medical care’.

NHS Lothian claimed that due to legal terms within the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and the Equality Act 2010, they would be unable to guarantee that female-only care would not be undertaken by a transgender doctor.

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