Waiting lists are putting trans people ‘at risk of self-harm and suicide’
Transgender people are being put at a greater risk of self harm and suicide because of “unacceptably” long waiting lists at Gender Identity Clinics (GIC), a trans equality charity has said.
Gender dysphoria, the extreme discomfort a person feels when their gender assigned at birth does not match their gender identity, is not covered by the NHS’s 18-week wait time targets.
The Scottish Trans Alliance (STA) said there was a desperate need for the government to invest in trans healthcare, and that gender dysphoria needs to be included in the waiting time targets.
According to a Freedom of Information request by the BBC, at the start of this year there were around 2,000 people under the care of just four GICs in Scotland.
Of those people, 300 had been been waiting more than a year for a first appointment. In Edinburgh, the average waiting time for an appointment last year was 324 days.
GP says she has her “hands tied” when it comes to helping trans patients.
Edinburgh GP Dr Jo Gardiner told the BBC that services are overwhelmed and her trans patients are suffering because of waiting times at Edinburgh GIC.
She said: “They often don’t have the same support as other patients. Family and relationships break down when they transition so it can be quite distressing for them.
“Some patients are very isolated and alone and at high risk for things like suicide.”
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Gardiner’s patients are often desperate to start gender-affirming treatments like hormone therapy, but can’t do so before an appointment at a GIC.
She added: “They are waiting and waiting and I’ve got my hands tied, I’m not allowed to start a prescription. That’s sad.
“When people go to the clinic they get a good service and are seen by caring, understanding people who spend time with them. These people are doing their best – we just need to expand the service to meet the demand.”
A delay in gender-affirming healthcare can also put trans people at greater risk of becoming victims of hate crimes.
The STA’s James Morton told the BBC: “If you’re trying to live in your gender identity in society, but you haven’t been able to access hormones or surgery, then your physical appearance is more likely to indicate you are trans.
“So it can create a high level of risk in social situations and take a real toll in terms of depression and anxiety.”
The consultation will focus on whether the minimum age for people to apply to legally change their gender should be reduced from 18 to 16, and what support is needed for children and young people who are uncertain of their gender identity.