NHS gender clinic The Laurels assessed only two new patients in 12 months: ‘The service is failing us all’

NHS gender clinic 'very sorry' about five-year wait for first appointment

NHS gender identity clinic (GIC) The Laurels, one of only seven in the entire country, has assessed just two patients in a year, with one person left on the waiting list for almost six years.

The shocking figures were revealed when a service user submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Devon Partnership NHS Trust, which runs the West of England Specialist Gender Identity Clinic in Exeter, commonly known as The Laurels.

The service user submitted the request after finding “the lack of public information extremely distressing, and a constant drain on [their] mental health”.

The FoI response by the NHS trust showed that between 1 December, 2019, and 30 November, 2020, 495 referrals for new patients were accepted by The Laurels, yet just two patients were assessed by the clinic.

However, there are currently 2,592 people on the waiting list for the clinic, with one patient having been on it 2,092 days, almost six years. This is 17 times the NHS legal guideline for waiting times of 18 weeks.

At its current assessment rate, it would take The Laurels 1,296 years to assess every patient on its waiting list.

Asked whether it had plans to “accelerate the waiting list”, the NHS trust said the clinic had “seen a very significant rise in referral rates over the past few years”, and had “experienced particular challenges in recruiting to clinical posts, especially medical staffing which has further impacted on the service’s ability to increase capacity to attempt to meet demand”.

The trust also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as having impacted its services, although this does not account for the first four months of the time period looked at in the FoI, with the first UK lockdown announced on 23 March, 2020.

The Devon Partnership NHS Trust also said The Laurels was “proactively pursuing recruitment to medical and speech and language therapy posts” and had “recently employed and trained two additional psychologists” to increase the number of assessments.

However, when asked for comment by PinkNews, the trust changed tack. It did not mention the pandemic or staffing issues, and instead claimed to be “focusing” on the patients it already has, rather than conducting new assessments.

A spokesperson for Devon Partnership NHS Trust said: “Like other gender services across the country, we are working hard to keep up with the huge increase in demand that we have seen over the last few years.

“We are currently focusing on those people who have already started their treatment with us, which is why the number of new assessments is low.

“We are working well with our commissioners to shape our service over the next three years so that we can meet the continuing increase in demand.”

Patients referred to The Laurels gender identity clinic have ‘completely lost hope’

The Freedom of Information response from The Laurels was shared to the subReddit Transgender UK by someone on the waiting list for the gender identity clinic, who said they had now “completely lost hope of receiving an appointment”.

They added: “It’s awful. The service is failing us all. I was referred there last year and I’ve completely lost hope of receiving an appointment.

“The lack of transparency is also an issue… the fact that it took a FoI request to get this info out of them speaks for itself.”

Other trans Reddit users were also left in shock, with one responding: “I had heard it was bad, but this… this is just staggering.”

Figures last year showed that patients at The Laurels were waiting for an average of 46 months to be seen by the gender identity clinic.

At the time, in August, 2020, the Devon Partnership NHS Trust also said that it had recently hired two new doctors to speed up waiting times. It is unclear whether these are the same two doctors referred to in the FoI response, which came five months later.

Marianne Oakes, lead therapist at the private trans health and wellbeing service GenderGP, said in a statement: “We hear the suffering of these trans people on a daily basis.

Suicidal thoughts and self harm are a very real consequence of being denied this essential care.

“We have to listen to trans people. We have to help them.

“Right now, this section of society has been cut adrift from the NHS and abandoned. Anyone who tries to do something about it is shamed, silenced or worse.”
Nationally, more than 13,500 trans and non-binary people in the UK are currently on a waiting list for a GIC. Waiting times vary by location but nowhere is it possible for a trans patient to see a gender specialist within the NHS legal guideline of 18 weeks.