Post from a HEE supported student on the UCL Health Module about a call for action for transgender people.

From students on the Health Librarianship module for Library and Information Studies at University College London (UCL).

As part of their assignment, we asked the students to write reflective pieces looking at a topic they had enjoyed from the course. Here is a fourth piece for you to read.

A call to action: the role of library and information professionals in improving healthcare services for transgender people

A visit to The King’s Fund as part of the UCL Health Librarianship Module prompted me to think about healthcare inequality in the UK. A group consistently underserved – even actively discriminated against – by UK healthcare services are transgender people.

The King’s Fund’s own Chief Executive Richard Murray has recently highlighted the need to ‘tackle poor care’ for transgender people, arguing that ‘if the NHS doesn’t face up to this challenge, then it has implicitly accepted it will fail a community’.1 Indeed, the results of TransActual’s 2021 Trans Lives Survey are sadly illustrative: ‘70% o[f] respondents reported being impacted by transphobia’ when accessing healthcare services and ‘57% [...] reported avoiding going to the doctor when unwell’.2 I strongly believe that NHS Knowledge and Library Services (KLS) have a responsibility to reduce this healthcare inequality, and, in fact, that library and information professionals are ideally placed to actively improve trans healthcare.

The Knowledge for Healthcare Strategy outlines how NHS KLS ‘enable organisations, teams and individuals to use evidence and share “know-how”’.3 This is precisely the work which is needed to improve healthcare provision for transgender people. At a time when 41% of trans people have found that ‘healthcare staff lacked understanding of trans health needs’, recommendations for improving trans healthcare consistently stresses the importance of improving health professionals’ knowledge and confidence when caring for transgender patients.4

The British Medical Association, for example, highlights the need for medical practitioners to use and ‘advance their understanding of best practice’.5 Moreover, research from King’s College London recognises the ‘heavy emotional and intellectual burden’ on transgender people when it is they themselves who have to research applicable
laws and guidelines to share with their healthcare provider(s).6

The mission of NHS KLS is to ensure healthcare services have ‘the right knowledge and evidence’.3 They therefore have a responsibility, and possess the skills, to take this burden from transgender patients and to increase health practitioners’ knowledge, understanding and confidence.

In addition, library and information professionals are increasingly aware of the roles we can play in supporting social justice; in my own academic library context, for instance, decolonisation is an ongoing priority.7 Simply put by Elaine Russo Martin, within the healthcare sector, ‘Social justice is a responsibility [...] to provide health services for every person’.8 In a 2021 survey conducted by Stonewall, 7% of respondents ‘had been refused care [...] while trying to access healthcare services in the last year’.4 Library and informational professionals share in the responsibility for preventing such inaccessibility.

Yet this responsibility does not only exist in the sphere of social justice librarianship. Improving trans people’s access to and experience of healthcare cannot be separated from the fundamental mission of NHS KLS. In the words of Knowledge for Healthcare, NHS KLS exist to ‘improve the quality of care’ for patients.3 Though the Strategy does not specifically address trans healthcare inequality, we should pay attention to the focus throughout on improvement of care. Should we not prioritise improvements for those whom the NHS is currently at risk of failing?


Heather Barr


Ms Gill Young


Knowledge and Library Services Development Manager - Northwest