Northern Ireland’s gender identity clinic takes no new patients in over a year

An NHS staff member wearing a stethoscope

Health services across the UK continue to treat transgender people as if they have a mental illness, while Northern Ireland’s adult gender identity clinic (GIC) has failed to treat any new patients in over a year, according to a leading LGBT+ rights campaigner.

Ellen Murray, executive director of Transgender NI, has warned that many trans people are turning to “unregulated self-medication out of desperation” as waiting times for GICs continue to grow.

In a speech to be delivered at the Amnesty Pride Lecture in Belfast on Tuesday evening (July 30), Murray will say: “Waiting lists have spiralled over the past number of years, and the adult service in Northern Ireland hasn’t taken new patients in over a year.

Lives are put on hold, dreams are set aside and suffering is let to fester.

“What we’ve seen this turn into on the ground is trans people being forced into expensive private healthcare and unregulated self-medication out of desperation, and has an enormous toll on the mental health of trans community members here.

“Lives are put on hold, dreams are set aside and suffering is let to fester because of an expensive and inefficient healthcare system based on the model that puts more emphasis on preventing transition for the wrong reason than actually promoting the rights of the community that needs it most.”

Gender identity services carry-over from age of criminalisation

According to Murray, trans people are failed by a system which carries echoes of Britain and Ireland’s homophobic past.

“Healthcare services for trans people developed during the criminalisation of homosexuality, where trans identity was seen as a serious mental illness, and was treated with forced electroshock therapy and institutionalisation,” she will say.

“The healthcare services we see today are an echo of that dark past, and their invasive assessments, insistence on conformity to gender stereotypes and the continued treatment of trans identity as a mental health condition harms our communities, young and old.”

The 2018 National LGBT Survey found that 80 percent of trans people who accessed or tried to access a GIC found the process difficult, with long waiting times the most common barrier.

Northern Ireland’s trans health services—based at the Brackenburn Clinic in Belfast–have a waiting time target of 13 weeks. NHS England GICs have a target of 18 weeks, though in reality patients can be left waiting for anything up to three years.

PinkNews has contacted the Belfast Trust, which is responsible for Brackenburn, for comment.