The portrayal of transgender characters and issues in mainstream media has triggered a surge in demand for services provided by gender identity clinics, experts say.
Patients now have to wait up to three years to be seen at a gender identity clinic (GIC), and several expert sources have privately told the Independent on Sunday that they believe the phenomenon can be partly attributed to transgender issues featuring in programmes such as EastEnders and high-profile figures such as Caitlyn Jenner promoting transgender rights.
Average waiting times for someone referred to a GIC in England have risen to between 12-18 months, according to UK Trans Info, as the NHS struggles to cope with the increase.
There are currently only seven adult GICs across the whole of England: one in London catering for the whole of London and the South-east; one each in Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle, covering the North; one each in Daventry and Nottingham, covering the Midlands; and one in Exeter for the South-west.
Waiting times at the Leeds GIC are the worst, having trebled from 62 to 182 weeks in the 12 months to September this year, said UK Trans Info, which collates data from clinics every quarter. The waiting list in England has increased by 1,000 in England alone over the past six months.
There are now more than 4,000 people on GIC waiting lists across the UK. Almost half of those are waiting to be seen at the West London GIC at Charing Cross Hospital in London, the busiest in the country.
The number of people having their first appointment in England between May and July this year rose by 51 per cent, yet waiting lists across all GICs in England still rose 35 per cent on average in the same period.
Scotland has four GICs and Northern Ireland one, where waiting times varied between six and 56 weeks. Wales does not currently have its own GIC and all adult patients in Wales are referred to Charing Cross.
UK Trans Info said: “For the English GICs, this means that all waiting lists have substantially increased since the last quarter, despite the increase in first appointments. There is no historical data available yet for Scotland or Northern Ireland.”
Dr Stuart Lorimer, a consultant psychiatrist and gender specialist, said: “I advise everyone, though, whether or not they use the private sector, to start the process of referral through the NHS pathway Even if the NHS’s wheels turn frustratingly slowly, they do turn, and it’s good to have the option.”