Transgender health services nearing crisis as clinics face 2800% surge in referrals

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The number of trans people seeking treatment in the UK has risen drastically.

There have been repeated warnings in the past few years that NHS gender identity services are struggling to keep up with a surge in demand across a range of services.

Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee sounded the alarm in January as waiting lists exceed legal limits across a range of services, while the Care Quality Commission has warned of unacceptable backlogs at the Gender Identity Clinic at London’s Charing Cross Hospital – with some patients waiting more than a year for an appointment.

The Guardian reports today that the number of people seeking referrals to the 14 Gender Identity Clinics across the UK has surged exponentially in some areas.

Under data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper found that all the services have seen a boom in patient referrals in the past 10 years.

Nottingham’s GIC saw the most marked growth, with a 2800% increase from 30 referrals in 2008 to 850 in 2015. More than 1000 are expected this year.

It was far from alone, with the Laurels clinic in Exeter – which was forced to apologise after a data leak last year – seeing a 2000% increase in referrals over a decade, while Sheffield  has also seen referrals serge from single figures to several hundreds.

Louie Stafford of the LGBT Foundation warned that as backlogs for appointments grow, trans people face a wait of several years with little support.

The campaigner said: “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.”

“You can throw all the money you want at a service, but unless you have people who are trained and skilled to work in those areas, you’re not going to improve capacity.”

Last year, a separate report found there were 2744 patients on waiting lists for gender treatment – which means that even if no more referrals are made, the existing backlog would take over a year to clear.

However, patient referrals have instead continued to increase without a corresponding increase in capacity – which means transgender people face the prospect of years stuck on waiting lists before seeing a doctor.

Under the forecasts, all GICs will have waiting lists in excess of a year by March 2017 – while those referred to the Northern Region Gender Dysphoria Service Newcastle could have a wait of twelve and a half years unless capacity expands

It would also leave patients referred to the Leeds GIC with a projected wait of 5 years 11 months, and patients referred to the Northamptonshire Gender Dysphoria Service with a projected wait of 7 years and 4 months.

The statutory NHS target waiting time is 18 weeks.