Sunderland MP calls for ‘gay cure’ treatment to be banned

Sharon Hodgson MP

Sharon Hodgson MP

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SUNDERLAND MP Sharon Hodgson has called for action to prevent “therapists” offering harmful “gay cure” treatments in the UK.

The so-called “gay-to-straight” conversion treatment aims to change someone’s sexual orientation using pseudo-psychology.

The World Health Organisation has condemned the practice, and a number of studies have found it to be harmful to the mental health of those who are subject to it.

Despite that, a 2009 survey found the treatment is still going on in the UK, and that many patients are referred to such therapies by their GPs, meaning that the treatment is paid for by the NHS.

Mrs Hodgson, who is Labour’s Shadow Equalities spokeswoman, said: “Being gay, bisexual or transgender is not an illness that needs to be cured, and trying to alter someone’s personality in this way will inevitably cause them real harm.”

Speaking during a debate in Westminster, the Washington and Sunderland West MP called for the Department of Health to stamp out the practice.

She said Ministers and civil servants must provide stronger guidance to doctors on how to help patients worried about their sexuality, and called for all those providing therapy to be registered with a professional standards body to ensure they are held to account.

“MPs from all parties who took part in this debate were united in the belief that this kind of practice has no place in an equal and tolerant society, and should certainly never be funded by taxpayer’s money,” she said.

While psychiatrists have to have appropriate qualifications and register with a professional body in order to be able to practice, which means they can be struck off if they are found to be in breach of standards, anyone can call themselves a therapist or a counsellor and offer services to private and NHS-funded clients.

Last year, Lesley Pilkington became the first psychotherapist to be struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy for malpractice after having been exposed trying to change the sexuality of an undercover reporter.

But because registration is voluntary, she is still allowed to practice and call herself a psychotherapist.

Health Minister Norman Lamb, responding to the debate, agreed that conversion therapy was “abhorrent”, and agreed that it was “completely inappropriate” for doctors to be referring patients for such treatment.

But he ruled out taking the steps called for by MPs.

Ms Hodgson said: “I welcome that the Government are looking at this, but it’s clear that firm action needs to be taken to ensure that people who peddle this kind of quack psychology aren’t allowed to call themselves therapists and counsellors, and it’s deeply disappointing that the Minister ruled out a ban.”