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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 00:37 GMT
Gay-friendly award for NHS trust
Women holding hands
The PCTs say they are aiming to eradicate discrimination
A health organisation is celebrating making it into a list of the top gay-friendly employers, published by rights group Stonewall.

The list of 100 firms was dominated by large organisations and big business, such as the British Council and IBM.

But ranked joint seventh was Nottingham Primary Care Trusts, which oversees GP and community care in the city.

It was the only NHS body in the top 30 of Stonewall's corporate equality index.

Stonewall ranked employers according to how well it felt they met the needs of gay staff and customers.

It used criteria ranging from implementation of an effective equalities policy to having openly gay staff on their board of directors.

Since anti-discrimination laws were introduced in December 2003, it has been unlawful to discriminate against workers because of their sexual orientation.

'Support mechanism'

A spokesman for Stonewall said Nottingham PCTs had won its place in the top 10 because it had put in place many of the anti-discrimination measures which were needed for an employer to be classed as "gay-friendly".

It has equal opportunity policies that explicitly say people should not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality, and staff benefits for same-sex partners.

If people are feeling better about being at work, that will have a knock-on effect on the service they deliver
John Lippitt, Nottingham PCTs

But a key initiative highlighted by Stonewall was the establishment of a Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Network.

Giles Matsell, equality and diversity manager for the PCT group, which includes Nottingham City, Broxtowe and Hucknall, Gedling and Rushcliffe PCTs and employs 3,000 people, said being ranked so high in the Stonewall table had come as a surprise.

But he said the organisation had worked hard to ensure people were not discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

"The network is there as a support mechanism for people who may feel isolated in the workplace, or who have issues they wish to talk about.

"It can be difficult for an LGB (lesbian, gay or bisexual) person to raise an objection to discriminatory comments because they may out themselves by doing that."

He added: "As far as I'm aware, there isn't a network that exists in other trusts."

The network is also used as a forum to consider PCT policies and initiatives.

'Adverse reactions'

John Lippitt, who works with the PCTs' Gay Men's Sexual Health Project, co-founded the network.

He said the idea came from a colleague who had come to the PCTs from another organisation where she felt she could be more open about her sexuality.

"It was a different environment, where she felt much more wary about how out she could be and how acceptable it would be in that situation.

It is less likely to be overt homophobia... it is more likely to be people feeling isolated and excluded
John Lippitt
"It occurred to her that there could be other people in that situation."

Because the trusts did not know the sexual orientation of members of staff, it sent a flyer to all its employees outlining plans for the network to be set up.

Mr Lippitt said: "That did cause some adverse reactions which, perhaps naively, I hadn't expected.

"But I felt that response did vindicate the setting up of the network. If that's the kind of response you get to a flyer, it justifies the establishment of a group to support gay, lesbian and bisexual staff.

"It is less likely to be overt homophobia - people are getting the message that that's not OK.

"It is more likely to be people feeling isolated and excluded."

Patients benefit

He said the project did not have a direct bearing on patients, but that they would benefit indirectly. The PCT group has also set up a support network for black and ethnic minority staff.

"If people are feeling better about being at work, that will have a knock-on effect on the service they deliver."

Since it began eight months ago, the group has held monthly meetings, and has set up an email group so staff can raise issues confidentially.

Alan Wardle of Stonewall commented: "This is about something that makes good business sense for both the public and private sector.

"Investing in their staff and respecting their values makes absolute business sense."


SEE ALSO:
Firms ask workers if they are gay
19 Aug 03 |  Business


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