NHS gender clinic apologises to trans patients for shameful five-year waiting time

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

An NHS gender clinic says it’s “very sorry” after it emerged that thousands of patients are languishing on a waiting list that is now five years long.

Patients who were referred by their GP in 2016 are only now being seen for their first appointment at the West of England Specialist Gender Identity Clinic, better known as The Laurels, in Exeter.

There are currently 2,702 people waiting for their first assessment, with 715 currently undergoing treatment at The Laurels, according to figures obtained by Devon Live. In the last month, 67 people were referred to The Laurels, while 23 people finished their treatment and were discharged from the service.

The Laurels is one of seven Gender Identity Clinics (GIC) in England and Wales that provide specialist healthcare for an estimated population of half a million trans people. Treatment includes psychological support, speech therapy, family therapy, hormone therapy and referrals for gender confirmation surgery. At The Laurels most people’s treatment pathway lasts four years.

A spokesperson for Devon Partnership NHS Trust, which runs the service, says it is “very sorry” for both the high number of people waiting and the length of the wait, and blamed staffing shortages and the coronavirus pandemic for the increases in both figures.

“The situation has been made more challenging by the pandemic, which has had an impact on the number of people who are able to have their gender-confirming surgery, and we have had sustained difficulty in recruiting a number of key clinical staff to our service,” the spokesperson said.

“We are very sorry that we are currently unable to see more people, more quickly and we know how much upset this can cause.”

In 2019, there were 1,700 people on The Laurels’ waiting list for an appointment following a referral, with the longest wait at just over three years.

In September 2016, there were 580 people on the waiting list. The wait then was 12 months for a first appointment, followed by an additional wait of between six to nine months to be given a medical diagnosis by one of the clinic’s four doctors.

The spokesperson for Devon Partnership NHS Trust continued: “We have seen a huge increase in demand for gender identity services in recent years, like many parts of the country, as more people feel able to come forward for support and treatment – but the number of referrals is now reducing.

“We are focusing our efforts on providing treatment for more than 700 people who have already started their treatment with us, which is why the number of new referrals currently being seen is low.

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

In 2020, more than 13,500 trans and non-binary people in the UK were on a waiting list for an NHS gender clinic. 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.

Waiting times vary by gender clinic, but many trans people wait three years or more for a crucial first appointment.

In 2019, a charity warned that the long NHS waiting lists put trans and non-binary people at risk of self-harm and suicide.