Plans to ban trans women from female-only hospital wards in UK spark huge backlash

The proposed ban on trans women from female-only hospital wards faced huge backlash from LGBTQ+ activists, politicians and health officials.

This article is about a ban on trans women from female hospital wards in the UK. In the photo, a hospital room with a bed with a green cover, a chair and a sofa.
Image: Via Unsplash - Martha Dominguez de Gouveia

UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay has announced plans to ban trans patients from female and male-only hospital wards, sparking huge backlash from LGBTQ+ activists, other Tories and health officials. The decision has been announced despite the fact that there has been no evidence of complaints about trans people’s presence in these wards.

Barclay revealed the plans in a speech made at the Conservative party’s conference in Manchester on October 3, stating that the Tories “know what a woman is”. Speaking about the proposal to ban trans women from female hospital wards, the health secretary vowed to restore “common sense” and recognise “the importance of the biological sex in healthcare”.

His speech sparked uproar, with LGBTQ+ charity organisation Stonewall calling the plan a “cynical attempt” to distract from other issues relating to women’s healthcare. A spokesperson from the organisation said that women “regularly report dissatisfaction with the healthcare they receive in England”.

The charity also mentioned the insufficient funds allocated to female-specific health issues and the fact that women’s symptoms are not taken seriously in the healthcare system. “This is a cynical attempt by the Secretary of State to ‘look busy’ instead of getting on with the graft of implementing the Women’s Health Strategy, and, besides being unworkable, all it will achieve is to restrict access to healthcare for trans women, by making it humiliating and dangerous,” the spokesperson added.

UK trans charity Mermaids also raised concerns about the proposed ban, saying that trans women have had access to female hospital wards for years without issue. “There is no evidence to suggest this should change now,” the organisation said.

“Once again, the trans community is being scapegoated for systemic issues within a healthcare system which has for years been failing to provide equal access to high quality care for all women; whether it’s black women being 5 times more likely to die in childbirth, punitive policies for queer women accessing IVF, or trans women taking their own lives while waiting years to access gender affirming care,” it added.

It was not only LGBTQ+ activists who heavily criticised the Health Secretary’s announcement. Other moderate Tory MPs also opposed the plans, fearing that LGBTQ+ people are being targeted in a wider culture war to appeal to certain parts of the electorate.

Conservative politician Jamie Wallis, who last year became the first openly trans MP, stated that Barclay was talking about a “non-issue”. He cited an investigation by the TransLucent website, which, after submitting freedom of information requests to 102 NHS Foundation Trust, found that no women had complained about sharing a ward with trans patients.

Wallis also stated that he was happy to collaborate with the Health Secretary on ways to improve access to healthcare, saying: “I hope to see him solve problems which actually exist.”

Barclay’s speech also faced backlash from other Tories who spoke to The Guardian but chose to remain anonymous given their roles in the UK government. One of them said, “I’m fed up of feeling intimidated by bigots and want people to know we’re still a home for LGBT+ people. Many of us will not back down.”

Chief Executive of NHS Providers Julian Hartley also criticised Barclay’s agenda, saying: “Any proposed changes to the NHS constitution should have improving inclusivity at the heart of what they do and be subject to wide conversations and consultation.”

Head of Health at the Unison union Sara Gorton described the Health Secretary’s speech as “deflection politics at its worst”, accusing him of attempting to distract people from other important issues, such as bringing down waiting lists, ending strikes and reforming social care.

During the Conservative conference, there were wider concerns about the agenda of some of the speakers, after Suella Braverman said that LGBTQ+ people escaping discrimination and persecution in their home countries should not automatically be entitled to asylum in the UK.

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