Single-sex Exemptions to Equality Act 2010 (Hospital Wards)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government, in light of its commitment to uphold the single-sex exemptions under the Equality Act 2010, what its response is to concerns that this could be undermined by allowing male hospital patients who identify as female, including those who have made no physical changes, to be placed in wards that match their gender identity. (S5O-04206)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government expects everyone to be treated with consideration, dignity and respect when accessing and using national health service services. NHS staff will make every effort to ensure that the privacy and dignity of all patients are maintained in Scottish hospitals. The Scottish Government supports the appropriate use of the single-sex exemptions by service providers where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

I welcome that answer, but NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s gender reassignment policy review says, on page 17, that a female patient who is distressed at the presence of a male-bodied trans-identified person in the next bed should be told that that person is female and that her complaint is similar to a white woman complaining about a black patient being in the next bed.

Does the cabinet secretary understand that such statements in official documents cast doubt on assurances that the Government is committed to maintaining women’s privacy and dignity and the single-sex exemptions in the 2010 act, and will she speak to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde about reviewing that policy?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

This Government expects all service providers, including health boards, to take account of everyone’s rights when developing policies and to ensure that all rights, including those of women, are protected. Health boards should assess each situation individually and sensitively, using their experience and expertise to determine the appropriate course of action while fulfilling their responsibilities under the 2010 act.

I say once again that this Government supports the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act 2010, which allow for trans people to be excluded when that is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

All service providers are encouraged to know their rights in this area, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a statutory code of practice that assists providers to understand the relevant issues in this area.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

What role did the Scottish ministers have in the development of that policy? Given the clear argument that objecting to a male-bodied person in a women-only place is akin to racism, will the cabinet secretary confirm that the Government will, as a matter of urgency, meet that health board to emphasise the rights that are set out in the 2010 act? Further, will she accept that it should not be up to the individual to know what their rights are, as she suggests, but that it is the responsibility of organisations to allow those rights to be enforced?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

As I made clear in my second answer to Joan McAlpine, the Government absolutely supports the single-sex exemptions in the 2010 act, and every service provider, including health boards, should take account of the 2010 act and the single-sex exemption that it contains. Again, I stress that statutory codes of practice are available to all service providers, including health boards, and I encourage all health boards and, indeed, all service providers to ensure that they are up-to-date with their knowledge on this matter.

Again, I stress the Government’s support for the use of single-sex exemption is if it is deemed appropriate and where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Does this not come down to the long-standing principle that treating trans women as though they are men or trans men as though they are women is a breach of their human rights? That is why we have a gender recognition act in the first place, and we should seek to improve it.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Patrick Harvie raises an important point. I absolutely appreciate that these are difficult issues to debate and that there are strongly held views in many areas, but I encourage all members—and, as I have done before, all service providers—to be aware of exactly what the obligations and responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 are, so that there can be a dignified and responsible debate on the topic.