Norfolk's NHS hospitals have revealed they are introducing 'gender-neutral' phrases in an effort to be more inclusive. But the move is proving controversial, with women's groups saying it will have the opposite effect. DAVID HANNANT reports on a very modern - and very divisive - issue


Hospital bosses in Norfolk and Waveney have started adding gender-neutral terminology into their vernacular, including using phrases like "pregnant people", when they would previously have simply said "women".

It is a move that is intended to be more inclusive to trans and non-binary people and has earned praise from equal rights campaigners.

But is also contentious.

Critics argue that such phrases risk 'erasing' women from healthcare, and may actually undermine important health messaging by making it less clear who specific advice and information is targeted at.

Two of the three acute hospitals in Norfolk have confirmed that their maternity departments have adopted gender-neutral phrases in recent years.

The James Paget in Gorleston and the Queen Elizabeth in King's Lynn have both introduced the term "pregnant people" into literature and onto their websites.

The phase is designed to avoid excluding maternity patients who are either part of the trans community or do not identify as women.

However, both hospitals say are using the phrase alongside the words "women" and "mothers", which will continue to be used.

Bosses at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital say its language will vary to meet different needs.

Eastern Daily Press: A specialist unit for new mothers with serious mental health problems is set to open in Norwich. Picture Katie Collins/PA Wire.A specialist unit for new mothers with serious mental health problems is set to open in Norwich. Picture Katie Collins/PA Wire. (Image: Archant)


In response to a Freedom of Information request, the James Paget said it used the phrase "pregnant people" "for the most part".

Paul Morris, director of nursing and patient safety at the hospital, said: "We aim to be an inclusive organisation and provide good patient care to everyone, respecting diversity and the diverse needs of individuals.

"While most of our maternity service users are women, we recognise that some may identify differently and the language we use is important to make sure everyone feels included."

Data from the hospital shows that since the start of 2020, one person who identifies as male or trans male has given birth at the site.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital included "pregnant people" on a recently distributed leaflet about lateral flow testing.

Eastern Daily Press: A leaflet from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which refers to pregnant peopleA leaflet from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which refers to pregnant people (Image: QEH)

But it says it uses the phrase "women" in the majority of its literature and has no intention of renaming its 'women and children division'.

Laura Skaife-Knight, deputy chief executive of the QEH, said: "We are committed to being an inclusive organisation for our patients, their families and staff and one where diversity is celebrated.

"As part of our journey to being a more inclusive organisation which is respectful of our patients' gender identity we are now adopting the term 'people' in our communications as opposed to being gender specific.

"More inclusive behaviours such as this will ensure our patients feel more comfortable in our care without any doubt of discrimination."

A spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said: "Best practice when it comes to inclusive language is evolving and we respect all maternity users, most of whom are women.

"The language we use reflects that but will also be varied where appropriate to recognise and affirm diverse gender identities."


The introduction of gender neutral language has been criticised by women's groups, who have argued its increasing use in public institutions is 'dehumanising' and 'erasing' women.

Maya Forstater, from Sex Matters, said: "Birth is an exclusively female activity. In the birthing room, midwives can be sympathetic and responsive to individuals in all kinds of unusual situations, but this is not a reason to change NHS language and policies for everyone."

Debbie Hayton, a transgender activist and writer, has argued such language can also be confusing.

"It's not helpful especially for women with low literacy who speak English as a second language - this could be quite harmful, and it doesn't help anybody," she added.


Eastern Daily Press: Norwich Pride founder Julie Bremner. Picture: SubmittedNorwich Pride founder Julie Bremner. Picture: Submitted (Image: Archant)

The use of inclusive language in hospitals has been welcomed by the organisers of Norwich Pride.

Julie Bremner, one of the organisation's co-founders, said: "I understand the hospitals trying to be as inclusive as possible and that is something we fully support at Norwich Pride.

"I think it shows that non-binary people are being included - not that anybody else is being erased.

"At Norwich Pride we do not sign up to the very negative view of it that women are being erased - seeing it as other people being included is a much more positive way of looking at it."


Birthing figures show that hundreds of babies are born at the three hospital's each year.

Since the start of 2020, 3,882 babies have been born at the James Paget. Of these, one was born to somebody who either identified as male or trans-man. The hospital does not keep data about non-binary patients.

At the Queen Elizabeth, 4,539 have been born. Fewer than five were born to parents did not identify as women.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital did not provide these figures.