The UK’s National Health Service Can Refuse To Treat Homophobic Or Sexist Patients Under New Rules

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Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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The U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) will refuse to treat patients who display discriminatory behavior such as sexism, homophobia or racism toward staff beginning in April. 

Amid warnings that an increased number of health service staff are facing abuse, the NHS will begin enforcing rules that allow hospitals to refuse service to patients seeking non-emergency care if they inflict discriminatory or harassing behaviors, the Telegraph reports. (RELATED: Woman Suing NHS Would Have Aborted Son With Down Syndrome)

Previously, patients could only be refused medical help if they were verbally aggressive or physically violent. Health Secretary Matt Hancock wrote to all NHS staff on Tuesday to announce the stronger measure. He also outlined a new joint agreement with police and the Crown Prosecution Service, the public agency responsible for conducting criminal prosecutions, that gives police more powers to investigate and prosecute cases where NHS staff are the targets of discriminatory behavior, Sky News reports.

“All assault and hate crimes against NHS staff must be investigated with care, compassion, diligence and commitment,” he said.

The new rules come shortly after a survey in 2019 that showed more than a quarter of NHS workers were bullied, harassed, or abused in one year. Of those who were discriminated against, half said it was linked to their ethnic background, and more than one in five faced discrimination based on their gender. 

The NHS introduced a package of new measures to improve race equality in the NHS in 2019  after a report had shown that there was work to be done in improve the experience of “black and minority ethnic (BME)” people.

An NHS nurse was involved in a legal battle with his employer after the NHS trust he worked for in Manchester failed to protect him from violent racist attack in April 2017. His case was similar to that of many NHS workers, according to the Guardian. Mental health staff and ambulance crews were especially likely to be the victims of physical and verbal harassment and assault.

The Equality Act 2010 was passed by the last Labour government, which would have obliged employers to protect their workforce from harassment, but the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition repealed the legislation.

Paired with the health service’s staffing crisis — where many employees are quitting due to increased workloads — incidents of discrimination from patients add additional mental strain to staff and could result in further shortages, UNISON, a public service union, reported in data the organization collected.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said his service was “determined to clamp down on abuse and aggression in all its forms” according to Sky News.