Former LGBT+ adviser to government says community ‘forgotten about’ when it comes to Covid data

‘The analysis has not been done and it should have been done,’ says Professor Catherine Meads

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 05 June 2021 16:36
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Today's daily politics briefing

A former LGBT+ adviser to the government has urged ministers and public health bodies to produce data on the health impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the minority group.

Issuing a plea for the collection of national statistics on incidence, hospitalisations and deaths among LGBT+ people during the crisis, Professor Catherine Meads suggested the community had been “forgotten” about.

The member of the recently disbanded advisory panel – which was set up to advise government on LGBT+ matters – told The Independent she was concerned about the lack of research, saying: “The analysis has not been done and it should have been done.”

The professor of health at Anglia Ruskin University said that it was “difficult” to ascertain the health impact of the crisis on LGBT+ people, given the absence of available data, and called for routine monitoring of the minority group, alongside the collection of data in regard to other protected characteristics, such as ethnicity.

A paper published earlier this year by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States’ health protection agency, also suggested information was lacking in the US, “hampering examination of Covid-19 associated disparities among sexual minority adults”.

The CDC suggested some LGBT+ people have higher rates of self-reported underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and asthma, and are more likely to smoke.

However, the CDC study added, “because data on sexual orientation are not collected in existing Covid-19 data systems, the effect of Covid-19 on sexual minority populations is unknown”.

Last year, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt raised the “paucity of data around health outcomes for LGBT+ people, perhaps not least in respect of the intersectionality with BAME people in respect of Covid” during a Commons debate on the disparate impact of the virus in the UK.

When Kemi Badenoch is saying in Hansard that there isn’t a problem, people just take it that there isn’t a problem. It’s because nobody has analysed the data

Catherine Meads

“The data deficit was identified in the [2018] LGBT action plan,” he said. “Will [the minister] recommit the government to securing the data, not least by ensuring that future public health surveys record data on protected characteristics?”

In response, Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, said: “I just reminded him that we are looking at those who have been most disproportionately affected and are most vulnerable.

“Although we have not found that LGBT groups specifically have been disproportionately affected, we know that they are losing out where healthcare services have been unavailable because they have had to close to provide other services to deal with the pandemic.”

Highlighting the minister’s comments, Professor Meads, who has been conducting research into LGBT+ health since 1992, added: “I think we’ve just been forgotten about.

“When Kemi Badenoch is saying in Hansard that there isn’t a problem, people just take it that there isn’t a problem. She’s saying there’s no data to show a problem. It’s because nobody has analysed the data. She’s conflating no problem with no data.

“And I think there is a problem. I think from the LGBT perspective, we’ve suffered from this for years and years and years, where people have assumed all sorts of things to do with the health of the LGBT population without checking the data out.”

Asked what message she would send to the government, Professor Meads replied: “Can we please have some data?”

Impacts of the pandemic on LGBT+ people have been explored by non-governmental groups, however, with a major survey published by the LGBT Foundation last year suggesting that there had been a severe decrease in mental wellbeing.

The organisation’s report, entitled Hidden Figures, also raised issues regarding the potential for increased risk factors associated with the virus, but said that, due to a lack of routine monitoring, the true health impact “will never be known”.

Rob Cookson, deputy chief executive at the foundation, told The Independent that LGBT people “experience a broad range of health inequalities across their lifetimes and face increased risk factors for the virus having serious health implications”.

“This level of need was already well evidenced prior to the pandemic, but not enough has been done by the government and other public health bodies to understand and act on the needs of LGBT communities during the pandemic,” he added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Covid-19 is a deadly virus that has affected the lives of everyone in the UK, with a disproportionate impact on certain groups of people, particularly those working in frontline and caring roles.

“The government continually monitors this impact by reviewing and collecting a wide range of data to help inform our ongoing response to the pandemic.”

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