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Gender law reforms will not prevent women accessing same-sex doctors, MSPs told

Shona Robison has addressed the General Recognition Act reform proposals (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)
Shona Robison has addressed the General Recognition Act reform proposals (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Patients will still be able to be seen by a same-sex health professional if requested under gender recognition reform proposals, MSPs have heard.

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison told the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee that most NHS staff would respect patients’ wishes.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill has caused controversy in recent years, with opponents raising concerns about how it could affect the rights of women and girls.

A person would only be required to live in their acquired gender for three months, followed by a further three-month reflection period – as opposed to the current two year rules.

The legislation also proposed dropping the minimum age to apply for a gender recognition certificate (GRC) to 16 from 18.

On Tuesday, Conservative MSP Pam Gosal raised concerns around section 22 of the proposed Bill which protects an individual’s right not to disclose they have a GRC.

She said people who want – or need to for religious purposes – to be seen by a biological female might feel like they cannot access healthcare services.

“Section 22 interferes with religion, for instance where it goes against a woman’s religious practices to be touched by a man – for example going into a doctor’s surgery and in the practice you can ask for a female doctor. That is quite normal.

“However, given an individual with a GRC does not have to disclose this, there is a possibility that a woman could end up being seen by a biological male.

“I have been made aware of this issue and also the concerns people are having with the existing legislation but with this GRA reform it could be more widespread.”

Ms Robison said: “The NHS does try, where it can, to give people their wishes in terms of if they want a man or a woman in terms of care, whether its personal care delivered by social care staff or whether it is a smear test, or whatever the procedure.

“If a patient specifically requests a doctor or nurse of the same gender, then of course, the NHS will try to accommodate that as far as possible.

“There are obviously never any guarantees for that because of the availability of staff with appropriate skills to manage the patient’s condition.”

She added: “We’re talking about very hypothetical situations here. I can’t imagine that most people, particularly in the caring professions, would want to do anything other than have the person’s wishes respected.

Earlier in the meeting Ms Robison said there has been no evidence of the GRC system being exploited by predatory men.

“All of the evidence really points that the abuse of women and girls comes from predatory men,” she said.

“There’s no evidence of them using a system of statutory declaration for gender recognition in order to abuse women and girls.”

SNP MSP Karen Adams interjected to raise concern over the language of referring to transwomen as “biologically male” which has previously been used as a “transphobic dog whistle”.

She also told MSPs that transgender individuals would not change the protections around same-sex spaces, such as women seeking private sessions on rape or sexual assault.

And she said trans people had been using bathrooms and changing rooms of their choice for many years – a reform in a GRC would not change that.

The minister also recognised concerns around detransitioning – where trans people could return to the gender they were assigned at birth.

Fears have been raised that those who want to detransition, while rare, may be criminalised for up to two years’ imprisonment.

Ms Robison said the individuals doing so “were not making a false declaration” at the time of applying for a GRC and therefore would not face punishment.