The NHS Rainbow Badge scheme designed to promote inclusivity and Pride within England’s healthcare system is reportedly being shut down.
The investigation claimed that “hundreds of thousands of pounds” of funding for the scheme, which aims to promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity within the NHS, had been “secretly pulled”, and that the project had now “wound down to nothing”.
Anonymous whistleblowers told VICE News that government officials within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) encouraged NHS England bosses to pull funding for the scheme, and that NHS England has since “ghosted” those working on it.
A spokesperson for the DHSC told VICE News: “Taxpayers rightly expect value for money, which is why we expect the NHS and all of the department’s arms-length bodies to continuously review whether their diversity and inclusion roles are good value, and to always consider ways to improve.”
Whistleblowers who spoke to VICE News explained that previous attempts to adopt further inclusive measures had also received pushback.
“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 whistleblower said.
Another insider told the outlet that the NHS Rainbow Badge scheme had become “increasingly difficult” to work on due to right-wing hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community, with critics branding the diversity scheme “woke” and “erasing women”.
Abi Giles, a specialist biomedical scientist in the NHS, told PinkNews that the scheme “was a great way of helping the LGBTQ community”, and that “small symbols like that can mean a whole lot of difference to communities that are ultimately minorities”.
She explained that she’s “proud to be a healthcare worker who is also trans” and that she feels “supported at my workplace and by colleagues”, but in her opinion, ongoing anti-trans sentiment in the UK feels like a “gut punch”, and that anti-LGBTQ+ moves will “be dismissed to the wrong side of history”.
“I’m not going to let this get me down, as I know my colleagues are supportive and the narrative in Westminster is not reflective of the wider opinions found generally,” she said.
“It’s sad the government seems to be so keen to use trans people, as we’ve seen this week especially, as a political pawn and also including the rest of the LGBTQ+ community caught up too.”
The NHS Rainbow Badge scheme first began in 2018 at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, when Dr Mike Farquhar started the project in order to “bridge the gap” between hospital staff and LGBTQ+ patients.
“At the beginning, it wasn’t about people being the complete solution for every problem,” Dr Farquhar told PinkNews in 2021.
“It was about saying, ‘I am a good person for you to talk to about your needs, I’m not going to be judgmental, I’m going to take it on board. And if I can’t solve it, I’ll work out how we can help you solve it.’”
“The whole point of this project was to bridge that gap. It can’t just be a small number of LGBT+ doctors and nurses and healthcare practitioners addressing this – we have to make sure that everybody’s aware of it.”
Dr Farquhar added that the scheme “really quickly” took off, and within a year and a half of the badges first being worn, “we went from 300 badges to quarter of a million”.
The project was then taken over by NHS England and rolled out nationally, with over 150 NHS trusts in England out of 215 launching rainbow badges. The scheme has also expanded to include a grading system for hospitals and trusts involved, with points awarded to hospitals adopting LGBTQ+ inclusive measures.
NHS England explained that its work in the area of LGBTQ+ inclusivity “will continue”.
“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,” NHS England told PinkNews.
PinkNews has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.