The NHS Trust that housed the UK’s primary transgender healthcare clinic has served notice that it will end the service – in a bid to hand it off to another provider.
The Gender Identity Clinic at Charing Cross has been helping transgender people since 1966, and is governed by West London Mental Health Trust.
However, following repeated warnings about spiralling backlogs in the sector as demand for trans services booms, the Trust has today announced that it is planning to terminate its contract.
The news comes just months after the UK’s health watchdog recommended an urgent expansion of the service, warning that patients were being let down by limited capacity.
As the commissioner of gender identity services, it will be up to NHS England to seek to find a replacement provider for the service.
The Trust says the change would not impact services for patients, contingent upon NHS England finding a “suitable alternative provider” as quickly as possible.
But trans activists are concerned that patients may end up falling through the gaps. In a statement, the Trust says it will attempt to ensure a “smooth” handover.
The statement says: “Demand for gender identity services has risen sharply in recent years as society has grown more understanding and awareness of NHS services has developed.
“This has been challenging for the clinic and resulted in waiting times that are longer than we would like.
“However, the clinic’s staff have continued to invest huge amounts of energy and, working with NHS England, have made great strides in bringing these waiting times down while still providing a service which is rated highly by patients.
“However, as WLMHT moves forward it is necessary to refocus the services that we provide. The Board has made a decision that the medium-term strategic focus for the Trust will be to develop mental health services, physical care and integration between the two.
“As a result, the Trust has come to the conclusion that patients requiring gender identity services would be better served in the long term by another provider, and has therefore served notice on our contract to NHS England.”
The Trust also issued a number of assurances to patients.
It says: “This does not mean services are stopping now – we will continue to provide services as normal until such time as a new provider is able to take over; this is likely to be at least six months.
“Patients from London and the South East will not be left without services or have to travel much further – NHS England as the commissioner for gender identity services will find a suitable alternative provider as quickly as possible.
“Patients will not have to start their treatment all over again – continuity of care for our patients is the number one priority for clinic staff. GIC staff will work closely with NHS England and a new provider to ensure disruption to treatment is kept to an absolute minimum.
“This does not mean we will let services deteriorate – WLMHT and the GIC will continue to deliver on plans we have developed with NHS England to improve access to and quality of services while it continues as the provider.
“We will not reduce staffing levels – while we remain the provider of this service we have an obligation to ensure there are sufficient qualified staff to maintain and continue improvements in access and quality.
“We will ensure a smooth handover to the new provider, working closely with our colleagues at the GIC and NHS England
“We will keep patients and staff informed about progress on the handover to a new provider and what this means for them as our work with NHS England develops over the coming months.”
UPDATE: The Trust’s initial version of events appears to be in some parts disputed.
Specialist Dr Stuart Lorimer has suggested that the decision was actually taken by the GIC service, in order to migrate transgender services away from a mental health trust, though this conflicts with the reasons given in the inital statement.
Dr James Barrett, Lead Consultant at the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC), on behalf of GIC clinicians, said: “The gender identity clinic is not closing.
“To clarify, we clinicians have long felt that West London Mental Health Trust is not a good fit for the unique and specific service we provide (the vast majority of those we see are not mentally ill).
“Increasingly, we feel our patients would be better served by us if we worked somewhere better able to support and develop a more tailored approach to gender.
“There are a number of options in terms of alternative providers. We would not make any move unless confident that patient care would be markedly improved.
“Until that point, current arrangements will still apply. Our aim is for any change to be a positive one, and any transition to be as seamless as possible.”