The issue of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in Northern Ireland missing out on care at the end of life was the subject of an event organised by Marie Curie at Stormont recently (Thursday 7 September).
From outright discrimination to uncomfortable experiences for LGBT people, such as having to come out to each new healthcare professional, means that people may face discrimination, stigma and invisibility when accessing care services or will miss out entirely.
Marie Curie is now calling on service providers and health and social care professionals to work together to ensure LGBT people receive high-quality, person-centred care that acknowledges and supports them during terminal illness. The charity has demonstrated its commitment to this issue by signing up to become a Diversity Champion with The Rainbow Project.
There was cross-party support for the event which coincided with Palliative Care Week (3-9 September). The audience of MLAs and health and social care professionals heard from speakers Mark Durkin MLA, Joan McEwan, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Marie Curie Northern Ireland and John O’Doherty, Director of local LGBT organisation the Rainbow Project discussing the needs of older LGBT people in health and social care who said:
“Accessing care as an older person is something many of us do not consider we will need until it is upon us – particularly end of life care. This is a difficult time for everyone, but for many LGBT people, fears of homophobia and invisibility exacerbate an already distressing and difficult time. Ensuring services are accessible, safe and considerate of the specific needs of LGBT people means understanding their experiences, particularly the impact of homophobia, transphobia and marginalisation throughout their life. “
Guests at the fully booked event also heard from Dr Richard O’Leary, a retired university lecturer who was a full-time carer for his late partner Mervyn. Richard said:
“When we came to access end of life care as a same sex couple we were fearful of what we might encounter from service providers. My civil partner Mervyn was admitted to hospital many times and the assumption that we were not a couple was made at least once during every hospital stay. In the public ward in hospitals I was wary of showing affection to Mervyn because it was unclear whether the hospitals had a protocol to protect us if anyone objected to us being affectionate.
“In hospitals and hospices much of the emotional care of the dying is offloaded to the chaplaincy service. This can be problematic – with one chaplain telling me that they were ‘struggling with the issue’ of same sex relationships. Mervyn and I enjoyed 25 years of a committed, loving relationship until he died on 2 August 2013. After Mervyn's death, there were people in my family and in my faith community who explicitly withheld from me the expression of condolence. Service providers should be aware of the disenfranchised grief and reduced social support that may be experienced by LGBT persons during bereavement. I'd like to thank Marie Curie for their pioneering research and leadership in the area of end of life care for LGBT people.”
A report from Marie Curie called ‘Hiding who I am: The reality of end of life care for LGBT people’ is available at www.mariecurie.org.uk/globalassets/media/documents/policy/policy-publications/hiding-who-i-am-the-reality-of-end-of-life-care-for-lgbt-people.pdf
Notes to Editor
Marie Curie – care and support through terminal illness
Marie Curie is the UK’s leading charity for people with any terminal illness. The charity helps people living with a terminal illness and their families make the most of the time they have together by delivering expert hands-on care, emotional support, research and guidance.
Marie Curie employs more than 2,700 nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals, and with its nine hospices around the UK, is the largest provider of hospice beds outside the NHS.