‘Tortuously long’ waiting lists for vital healthcare driving vulnerable trans kids to self-harm, charity warns

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A trans support charity is reporting that children are self-harming as waiting lists for gender identity clinics spiral to four years.

Anger has been growing in recent weeks as it’s been reported that trans and non-binary patients in the south west of England are facing waits of 193 weeks to see a gender specialist — more than 10 times the NHS target of 18 weeks.

Gender identity clinics provide healthcare, including counselling, hormone and speech therapy, and gender confirmation surgery, for an estimated population of half a million trans people.

There are seven gender identity clinics in the UK. Pre-pandemic there were estimated to be 13,500 trans and non-binary people waiting for an appointment, with reported average waits for a first appointment after GP referral of 18 months.

Speaking to the i, the founder of a support group for gender diverse children and teens called Think2Speak said that the “unknown” length of time added to existing waiting lists by the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in some children self-harming.

“Some members of the group have got letters over the course of COVID-19 saying that their treatment has been delayed or cancelled, and they haven’t heard anything back since,” said Lizzie Jordan, whose group is based in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

“For those who are waiting for their first appointment, that wait is going to even longer.

“Some children are self-harming, which is awful to hear. When they don’t know how long it’s going to take to be seen, it can be a struggle. As great as CAMHS (the NHS initialism for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) is, it doesn’t have the capacity to assist these kids.”

Jordan added: “It’s really hard to explain an infinite concept of time to a child. It’s heartbreaking to see that families who cannot afford to go private have no option but to wait and see.

“At the moment, it feels like specialists are far away, locked in an ivory tower.”

Cara English, head of public engagement at trans-led charity Gendered Intelligence, told the i that coronavirus had made already “tortuously long” waiting lists “stretch to ruinous heights”.

“We need to increase capacity now,” she said. “Trans people’s healthcare needs are just as acute and universal as for other people, but we are being failed by the very services we need.”

“For many people across the country, trans or not, COVID-19 has led to delays and cancellations of much-needed services and appointments. Difficult but necessary decisions have been made for the sake of the nation’s health.

“We share in the anguish of the ongoing and global pandemic, but it would be incorrect to say waiting times for Gender Identity Clinics have not been a crushing concern for a long time,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust acknowledged some appointments related to physical treatments were delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but said hormone clinics were now up and running again.

“Appointments are currently being delivered both remotely and some face-to-face, and future appointments should not be further affected by the outbreak,” they said, according to the i.

“We understand how frustrating it is to have an appointment rescheduled, and apologise to everyone who has been affected.”