Healthcare professionals will refuse to quiz patients over whether or not they are gay despite proposals outlined by NHS England, the chairman of the College of Medicine has warned.
Dr Michael Dixon, who has advised the government on clinical commissioning, fears GPs will worry that it could lead to a breakdown in long-standing relationships between them and their patients if they have to ask them if they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual or other.
NHS England says it needs to record people's sexual orientation to fulfill legal duties under the Equality Act and that people do not have to answer if they do not wish to.
But Dr Dixon, a GP of 35 years, said: “I think there will be some GPs that will say they simply don’t feel it’s part of their business to ask this question, and I’m sure there will be plenty that won’t.
“I just think there’s a problem because there’s a time and a place. At some times it might be appropriate to ask such a question, and other times it’s entirely inappropriate.
“It might threaten a relationship between GPs and their patients. It’s a bit like saying to your doctor “I have a sore throat”, and they ask to check your feet.”
Dr Dixon, who as chair of the College of Medicine represents a body championing “integrated” approaches to healthcare, agreed there might be instances where it’s appropriate to ask the question if it helps doctors make the right diagnosis, but added: “When it comes to making intrusive demands, surely that ought to be up to the doctor if it’s appropriate or not?
“I think there will be some consultations where it might be misconstrued as intrusive, or totally out of order.”
However, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the information would be helpful to GPs as a “patient's sexuality can potentially have an impact on some aspects of their healthcare”.
She added: “We can take it into account when making a diagnosis or recommending treatments - but it should always be a patient's choice whether they disclose this information.”
Half of all health and social care bodies would be monitoring patients’ sexual orientation by April next year and all are expected to do so by April 2019.
The health service said the move was to keep in line with equality legislation to ensure those who do not identify as heterosexual are treated fairly.
Individual NHS trusts will decide whether to opt out of the move, and patients will not be forced to answer, it added.
An NHS England spokesman said: "All health bodies and local authorities with responsibility for adult social care are required under the Equality Act to ensure that no patient is discriminated against.
"This information standard is designed to help NHS bodies be compliant with the law by consisting collecting, only where relevant, personal details of patients such as race, sex and sexual orientation.
"They do not have to do it in every area, people do not have to answer the questions and it will have no impact on the care they receive."