LGBT+ History Month blog: Medicine – #UnderTheScope

Last updated on 13 Feb 2024
Profile shot of Lou Silver, Equality Diversity and Inclusion manager at the HRA

By Lou Silver with input from the HRA LGBTQ+ staff network

This February, as part of LGBT+ History Month, the HRA is celebrating the enormous contribution that LGBTQ+ people have made – and continue to make - to the field of medicine and healthcare.

We’re also putting the healthcare experiences of LGBTQ+ people ‘under the scope’ and looking at what we’re doing as an organisation to bring about change and tackle inequalities in health and social care research.

Let’s start by introducing two LGBTQ+ pioneers of health and social care research.

Cecil Belfield Clarke (1894 – 1970)

Clarke was a Barbadian-born physician who qualified and practised in the UK.

His work to establish a mathematical formula for calculating the dosage of medicine for children resulted in greater confidence and consistency in paediatric healthcare.

He was a gay man with a long-term partner but had to keep his personal life discreet, as same-sex relationships had not yet been decriminalised.

Today, we build on Clarke’s legacy with our commitment to diversity of research participants to make sure that - amongst other things – recommended dosages are adjusted as needed for differences like age, sex and ethnicity.

Dr Sara Josephine Baker (1873 – 1945)

Dr Jo, as she was known, worked from 1907 in a New York slum with a focus on reducing infant mortality, where babies made up a third of the 4,500 weekly deaths.

She developed a programme to educate mothers about hygiene and infant care, at a time when preventive healthcare and health promotion were barely recognised concepts.

By the end of her first year, infant mortality fell by an estimated 1,200 deaths, and by 1911 the infant death rate in New York dropped by 40%.

Dr Jo was openly gay and lived with her partner Ida Wylie. It’s estimated she saved up to 90,000 lives during her 30 years of work.

Today, much of the research which comes through our Approvals Services relates to public health and health promotion.

The HRA is a passionate advocate for public involvement at all stages of the research lifecycle, bringing diverse insights to help researchers consider relevant social factors in their research design, delivery and dissemination.

'The way to keep people from dying from disease, it struck me suddenly, was to keep them from falling ill.'

Sara Josephine Baker, from her autobiography 'Fighting For Life'

LGBTQ+ health inequalities

The reason for including diverse insights, of course, is to address widespread health inequalities, and LGBTQ+ communities are no exception.

A 2021 scoping review of 83 studies relevant to LGBTQ+ healthcare in the UK found clear evidence of health inequities between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ populations.

It stated: ‘The results from all studies indicated that LGBTQ+ people were more likely to have a negative experience or outcome when being diagnosed, receiving treatment, or in post-treatment.’

The review cited a lack of LGBTQ+-specific training, care and attention as the main cause.

At the HRA

Our vision is for high quality health and social care research today, which improves everyone’s health and wellbeing tomorrow. Everyone’s.

Trust is one of our fundamental principles. As long as LGBTQ+ people ‘continue to experience and anticipate discrimination in health and social care’ (Braybrook et al, 2023), inequalities in access to healthcare services and related outcomes will persist.

We’re making sure our staff and community are representative of the UK LGBTQ+ population, so that their voices and experiences can shape our work to build trust.

Our staff networks have worked with us to develop diversity and inclusion guidance for researchers, and we continue to provide learning opportunities for all staff to consider LGBTQ+ lives in their work.

By building on diversity in research participants, championing and modelling diverse public involvement, and educating our staff, community, researchers and partners, we’re taking positive action to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to LGBTQ+ equality.

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