Jeane Freeman urged to intervene on NHS trans policies

Scotland's Health Secretary has been urged to investigate widespread changes to staff policies in NHS trusts, introduced to support trans workers, but which are claimed to breach equalities law by infringing on the rights of others, particularly women.

Jeane Freeman has been urged to review NHS policies on equalities.

Jeane Freeman has been asked to have the policies withdrawn and “uphold women’s rights” just days after the latest trust to introduce a trans staff human resources policy, NHS Lanarkshire, was caught up in a social media row over its new protocol which states that babies are “assigned a gender at birth”, that a person need only change their pronouns to be considered the opposite gender, includes “non-binary” as a sex class, and says staff could discriminate against trans colleagues by “not thinking” of them as the gender they present.

The new policy, sent to NHS Lanarkshire staff earlier this month, has prompted letters to Ms Freeman asking for action because of worries that raising concerns internally might automatically see female staff breach the new policy.

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A senior nurse within the trust told Scotland on Sunday, that staff had not been consulted about the policy and while there was understanding trans colleagues needed to be supported, the changes now meant that communal changing areas - where staff have to put on and take off uniforms for infection control purposes - had become mixed-sex without any warning.

As a result she has written to Ms Freeman, stating: “I am sharing these concerns directly with you and not my employer because the wording of the policy strongly suggests raising concerns with them will have negative consequences to the complainant.

"While I view any steps my employer takes to make employees feel protected and valued as positive, these steps must never negatively impact on the protections afforded other colleagues via the Equality Act. Sex is a protected characteristic and it’s appropriate and legal to provide sex segregated facilities for staff. who are required to remove clothing.

“I have already breached this policy a number of times by discussing it with my female colleagues who are shocked to find that trans employees do not need any diagnosis, medication or surgery, that the trans employee may be struggling with gender dysphoria or “may dress in the opposite gender“ for “erotic pleasure”.

"It should go without saying that no employee is there to provide erotic pleasure to colleagues and doing so would be traumatic and distressing”.

The new feminist campaigning group, For Women Scotland, has also written to Ms Freeman listing other NHS trusts across Scotland which have adopted similar policies and asking that these are “immediately withdrawn and an investigation conducted into the process of how they were introduced, along with a guarantee from the Minister that the Scottish Government remains committed to uphold women’s rights.”

The letter says the trusts have breached the Equality Act and the Gender Recognition Act and points to a statement by Ms Freeman’s Cabinet colleague. Shirley-Anne Somerville, when she put proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act on hold, that said she recognised “some organisations have changed policies which are not required in law” and while they “have done so in a well-intentioned attempt to be trans inclusive... they may have unintentionally made changes that make women feel uncomfortable and less safe. They need to take account of everyone’s rights when any changes are being considered.”

It also claims that NHS Lanarkshire’s equality impact assessment of the new policy was flawed and “allows males to live out their erotic fantasies in the workplace, in female-only spaces... conduct that could constitute harassment by violating the dignity of female staff, and/or by creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.”

It adds: “A policy that decrees that a staff member must be granted access to the showers, changing rooms and toilets reserved for the opposite sex as soon as they assert a trans identity by changing their names and/or pronouns, rides roughshod over the rights of female staff to privacy, dignity and safety in single-sex spaces.”

However NHS Lanarkshire said that the policy was written “in line” with the trusts duties under the Equality Act. Kay Sandilands, director of human resources, said: “NHS Lanarkshire recognises that trans people are entitled to fair and equal access to all NHS services, including as an employer.

“This particular guidance sets out NHS Lanarkshire’s responsibilities as an employer of trans people. As an employer, we aim to ensure that all of our staff are treated in a fair and consistent manner in an open and fair culture where everyone is valued and respected.

“I would like to reassure all of our staff that we will continue to listen to the concerns of our staff and strive to create a fair and equal workplace for all employees.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the letters would be considered and responded to in “due course” and added: “All organisations need to take account the Equality Act when any changes in policy are being considered. All rights - those of women and trans people – must be protected, and this includes the protection of women’s safe spaces.”

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