Horse and carriage or chalk and cheese? How gay men and GPs mix

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How often do you visit your GP? Do you even have one? Does your GP know you’re gay? These questions and more were asked of gay men as part of the 2003 Gay Men’s Sex Survey, and are part of a project which aims to help form a better understanding of the relationships between gay men and GPs. A new report, Doctoring Gay Men, published by Sigma Research as part of the CHAPS programme analyses the results of these questions and makes a series of recommendations for improving gay men’s interaction with GPs.

Peter Weatherburn, Director of Sigma Research said: “Primary care is the first point of contact with the NHS for many people, whether it be via a GP, a casualty unit or a dentist. This is as true for gay men as any other part of the population. The Department of Health is keen for more GPs to provide basic level sexual health services to gay men, so it’s important that we gain a better understanding of how gay men interact with GPs.”

The survey’s main findings were:

Less than half of gay men in the UK are “out” to the staff in their GP’s surgery
A third of all gay men who are registered with a GP said the surgery staff did not know they had sex with men, and they would be unhappy if this information was given to staff
7% of men went to their GP for their last sexual health checkup or HIV test
Overall satisfaction with GP services amongst gay men is relatively high
Will Nutland, Head of Gay Men’s Health Promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust said: “The Department of Health’s aspirations for GPs to provide a number of sexual health services are unlikely to be sustainable for many gay men. If men do not feel confident enough to be ‘out’ to the staff in their GP’s practice, then their doctors are not going to be able to provide services that are appropriate or effective.”

The report concludes that if the Department of Health is to achieve its wish of providing more sexual health services for gay men through GPs, there are two major obstacles that need to be overcome:

the stigma which prevents gay men from disclosing their sexuality to their GP
the “exclusive rights” that GU clinics have over sexual health in order that GP practises can take the “whole patient” into their care