Attitudes and discrimination in Ireland’s healthcare system
It’s our very own K-Stew!
When I’m not immersing myself in the Limerick gay scene or inhaling copious amounts of coffee, I live the glamorous life of a student nurse. Thirteen hour shifts, making beds, testing urine samples, and all for no pay? Sign me up!
On my first placement, we had health promotion education sessions once a week and amidst the anti-smoking and addiction leaflets were posters that our tutor was starting to put up around the hospital. Posters about addressing the needs of LGBT people in the healthcare system. Her own comments on the campaign were that, whilst it was an extremely important issue (especially considering the association of the gay community with HIV and the historical mistrust of the system by the community), most of the staff wouldn’t care. Unfortunately, I have to agree.
In terms of pre-clinical education, nursing covers sociological and psychological approaches to care as well as the anatomical and procedural skills required for the job. Through modules such as sociology and health studies, I am aware of how socioeconomic background, environmental situations and ethnic background impact on health and how people access services. I have yet to hear any mention of the LGBTQ community.
Just not funny
We are taught why we shouldn’t judge people for their conditions, their addictions, how they look and where they come from, but there is never a point made about not judging people for who they love.
Maybe I’m just sensitive because I’m an insider. Maybe I’m still sore that when my lecturer mentioned that people can’t change their demographic, besides gender in a few cases, everybody laughed. I still don’t get what was so funny.
The health system, and bureaucracy in particular, has a habit towards heterosexism. Admission forms require a marital status, of which civil partnership is not an option. My midwife friend has reported an expectant mother filling her form to indicate that her partner would be raising her child with her, only for it to be changed to “single mother” by staff when it was revealed that her partner was a woman.
A 2010 study by Weber divulged that LGBT parents had many fears when dealing ith the health system; worries included inadequate care and bias towards their child due to latent homophobia and custody issues should the biological parent die. In all of these cases, it is the nurse’s remit to support the patient and the family and to earn their trust and mutual respect. In cases of discrimination or misunderstanding towards the LGBT community, this would be impossible.
The situation is not much better for LGBTQ staff. My own biggest fear would be that a patient would find out that I am bisexual and refuse to let me provide their care. Should this happen, it would put pressure on other staff to pick up the slack for me, confuse the system of patient assignment and would generally upset me because I would have to leave a case for reasons completely separate to my competence.
If I meet a patient whose beliefs or ideals clash with mine, I still have to treat them and treat them with just as much dignity and respect as I would anyone else. One time I met a patient whose T-shirt read WIFE: Washing, Ironing, Fucking, Etc. In the outside world, the feminist inside me would be trying to hold back a phenomenal rant. Inside the hospital, this ill man needs my help.
The most revealing conversation concerning attitudes to LGBTQ staff that I can recall happened on a class night out to a local bar. There are two gay ladies in my class: me and my midwife friend. As I was not out at the time, the focus was on her. A resounding question was whether she would tell her patients that she was a lesbian. In my innocence, I asked why this would be necessary.
It just seems a bit sneaky not to.
Although this entire conversation involved no malice or ill intent, I still found it shocking. There has never been a question of female nurses carrying out procedures on male patients and vice versa. But when a lesbian or bisexual healthcare worker needs to carry out an episode of intimate care on a female patient, we better hold the phone. Lord knows I cannot maintain a professional attitude when there are vaginas afoot.
People are people
It’s not all bad. Most people that I have encountered are extremely accepting. My academic adviser even stopped me in a corridor today to congratulate me on my Ms Gay win. The days of wishing for the option of not having to treat homosexuals seem to have passed.
When it gets right down to it, the An Bord Altranais Code of Conduct has one particularly important things to say on the matter – “The nurse must at all times maintain the principle that every effort should be made to preserve human life, both born and unborn.” We are trained to preserve life.
Not straight people or gay people. Just people.