Number of British people seeking to change their gender soars

LGBT activists warn that increasingly long waiting times for people seeking gender reassignment can be dangerous, with trans people already reporting much higher rates of suicide and depression

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The number of people undertaking treatment to change their gender has increased dramatically in the UK, with some having to wait years for treatment as a result.

A Freedom of Information Act undertaken by The Guardian revealed that referrals to all 14 gender identity clinics (GICs) in the UK had increased, with some clinics reporting surges in patient numbers of several hundred per cent.

At Charing Cross in London, the oldest and largest adult clinic, the number of referrals has almost quadrupled in 10 years, from 498 in 2006-07 to 1,892 in 2015-16.

Another clinic in Nottingham reported a 28-fold increase in referrals in eight years, from 30 in 2008 to 850 in 2015. It expected this to increase to more than 1,000 referrals during 2016.

The Tavistock clinic, the only centre for children and adolescents in England, has experienced referral increases of around 50 per cent each year since 2010-11, with an unprecedented increase of 100 per cent in the past year, up from 697 to 1,398 referrals.

James Barrett, a consultant psychiatrist at the Charing Cross clinic, said of the rise: “It obviously can’t continue like that forever because we’d be treating everyone in the country, but there isn’t any sign of that levelling off”.

Average waiting times for a first appointment at a gender identity clinic are said to be nine months for adults and half that for children, with one in six adults waiting more than a year for treatment.

Experts at the GIC in Leeds estimated that a patient referred to the service at the end of October 2015 could wait four years before their first consultation with a medical specialist.

Louie Stafford, the trans programme coordinator for the LGBT Foundation, was referred to the Leeds clinic in 2012 and waited two years for his first appointment.

Mr Stafford warns such long waiting times are dangerous for trans people, who already report much higher rates of depression, and have higher rates of suicide than the rest of the population.

He told The Guardian: “You’re referred from your GP, there is no contact with any specialists or clinicians until your first appointment at the gender identity clinic. People are completely on their own, sometimes for up to three years, dealing with issues around gender that are potentially life-threatening … It’s not surprising that people get desperate in that timeframe.”

There are just over 15,000 people who are gender identity patients in the UK – roughly 12,700 adults and 2,700 adolescents or children. Trans activists suggest there could be tens of thousands more considering medical intervention – which includes hormone treatments or surgery -  leading to concerns that the NHS would struggle to meet demand. 

In 2015-16, the NHS in England put an additional £4.4m towards funding gender identity services. 

Will Huxter, the chair of the NHS England gender task and finish group, said: “We’re keen to get waiting times down as quickly as we possibly can.”

Mr Huxter said part of the problem is that there isn’t a specialised training strand that sees medical professionals emerge from training ready to work in the gender identity clinics. 

“We are working with Health Education England and the GMC [General Medical Council] about how we could improve that for the future,” he said.