Dr Justin Varney

Dr Justin Varney, National Lead for Adult Health and Wellbeing, and Gul Root, Lead Public Health Pharmacist, both of Public Health England, consider the opportunity presented by this year’s Pride Festival for health professionals to focus on the needs of the LGBT community.

Tackling health inequalities cannot be achieved if we ignore the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, yet too often we, as public health professionals, fail to think beyond the shopping list of diversity to consider how we can better support this specific population and meet their needs.

Health professionals including pharmacy teams, allied health professionals and the wider workforce need to be aware of and sensitive to the needs of people from the LGBT community.  

When it comes to meeting the needs of the LGBT community there is significant evidence of inequalities in:

Mental health


Alcohol and substance misuse

Sexual health and HIV

Many of these inequalities are even greater for LGBT people from ethnic minority groups, bisexuals and LGBT people living with disabilities, perhaps reflecting the compounding impacts of marginalisation and discrimination.

But it’s not just about meeting these needs, it is also about informing communities that you see them and want to engage and work with them.

The Stonewall Report Unhealthy Attitudes highlighted that about a quarter of LGBT staff working in the NHS have witnessed colleagues in patient facing roles being homophobic, biphobic or transphobic and almost a quarter had directly experienced discrimination from colleagues themselves. Sadly this experience is not restricted to the health sector but it does highlight that we still have a way to go in becoming a more inclusive society.

An individual’s journey towards self-awareness and self-identification of their sexual orientation or gender identity can happen at different stages of life. Some people will know early on as young people that they feel ‘other’ from the heterosexual and gender binary norms of society and some may take decades to find their natural identity as they work through societal and life pressures to find a way to be their true selves.

There are many opportunities to make every contact count for LGBT people and this starts with having a strong emphasis on equality and diversity training for all staff alongside engagement with local LGBT community organisations to co-produce the approach and share learning.

Within specific health improvement programmes such as the Healthy Living Pharmacy initiative there are really great opportunities to move faster and deeper in meeting the needs of these communities and an opportunity for HLP pharmacies to become safe healthcare settings for LGBT people to get support, signposting and access services from trained professionals.

But supporting LGBT people isn’t just about the services we provide, it is also about how we treat each other. Being yourself at work is key to being able to achieve both your personal and professional potential.  The evidence base that demonstrates the value to business of colleagues at all levels of the organisation being able to bring their authentic selves to work is building every day.

Public Health England, like many other employers, is committed to becoming an inclusive and compassionate employer that supports our diverse and talented workforce to truly be their authentic selves at work. For us this has been about supporting our LGBT staff through inclusive policies, visible statements of inclusion, ensuring all staff undertake diversity and inclusion training, supporting training and development opportunities for LGBT staff and ensuring that our approach to inclusion is accessible for all of our diverse and talented workforce.

The inequalities affecting LGBT people are too great to ignore and we should all step up and take pride in tackling them together.

There are a range of resources available to support organisations of all sizes to do more to tackle LGBT health inequalities, these include: