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“The funding cut is especially interesting timing considering it’s February, which in the UK is LGBT History Month, and this year’s theme is medicine,” a whistleblower told VICE News.
While the highly-successful programme was commissioned by the NHS, it was being led by a group of LGBTQ charities, including the LGBT Foundation and Stonewall. Stonewall confirmed to VICE News that the scheme’s funding was cut and the charity stopped being involved as a “main partner” last September. The LGBT Foundation did not comment.
VICE News asked NHS England when it will issue an update, as well as what will happen to current staff, merchandise, and the thousands of pounds of previously allocated funding. While we were initially told that funding has been pulled and this will be communicated publicly soon, an NHS England spokesperson declined to answer our questions, instead responding: “The NHS Rainbow Badge programme is an important initiative to address LGBT health inequalities and to support LGBT inclusion, for both patients and staff. Our work in this area will continue.” This is not the first time the government has intervened in the NHS Rainbow Badge scheme, one whistleblower added. “Last year, the national team tried to change the pin badge to the ‘Progress Pride flag,’ which is more inclusive for trans people and people of colour. It was blocked by the Department of Health and Social Care. They said it was too woke.”
“The funding cut is especially interesting timing considering it’s February, which in the UK is LGBT History Month, and this year’s theme is medicine.”
Last year, The Sun claimed the NHS had “sick priorities” for trying to improve the experience of LGBTQ staff and patients, and compared the scheme to the Lucy Letby murders. Letby, a nurse at the Countess of Chester Hospital, was found guilty of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder six others in August 2023.In response to the negative coverage, a source close to the former Health Secretary Steve Barclay told the Daily Mail, “Any scheme which does not recognize the role of women and biological sex in the NHS directly contradicts ministerial steers and raises serious questions of propriety. The Secretary of State has been very clear that women should be called women and freedom of speech upheld. He expects that guidance to be followed.” Victoria Atkins replaced Steve Barclay as Health Secretary in November 2023.The current government’s hostility towards the NHS Rainbow Badge scheme is a massive change from the support that it once received from politicians. Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock was seen wearing his rainbow pin badge throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and he previously said he loved the scheme.
“The Rainbow Badge scheme is the most vanilla scheme ever, it’s just about basic healthcare and recognition of health inequalities for LGBTQ people.”
In recent years, the programme was expanded, with a full-time team working on it, and a grading system was developed for the hospitals and trusts that signed up. Points would be awarded to hospitals for positive moves towards LGBTQ inclusion, like delivering training sessions, having gender neutral toilets, and encouraging medics to ask patients for their pronouns. The best organisations were given gold, silver, or bronze awards. Out of 215 NHS trusts in England, over 150 launched NHS Rainbow Badges and over 70 had been graded for their LGBTQ inclusivity. Care providers and patients across the country have frequently spoken out about how the scheme has made them feel more comfortable in healthcare environments. Speaking to the NHS press team, a staff nurse said, “sometimes a baby will have two mums and I’ve noticed that some parents haven’t always felt comfortable being open with all staff members. Once I saw a mum looking at my badge and after that she knew it was okay to just be herself.”
In the first year and a half of the project, a quarter of a million NHS staff signed up and received a rainbow badge.