NHS is failing trans people over access to life-saving healthcare, eye-opening study finds

A graphic representing TransActual and its report on NHS waiting times

Over 86 per cent of trans people have said that NHS waiting times have negatively impacted their mental health according to a TransActual survey.

The trans advocacy group, which aims to shine a light on injustices against trans people in the UK, released its report on gender-affirming care on Tuesday (15 November) as part of Trans Awareness week.

It polled more than 1,000 UK-based trans people on their experiences in accessing gender-affirming care, including accessing private healthcare and referrals to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC).

Waiting times for GIC appointments have become one of the most prevalent issues for trans people in the UK. Times between referrals and first appointments can range from 2-4 years.

TransActual found that only 15 per cent of those referred to a GIC after 2017 have attended their first appointment, which has had a significant impact on mental health.

Of those surveyed, 61 per cent also said the wait to begin gender-affirming care had negatively impacted their personal relationships.

These issues have prompted many trans people to seek out private healthcare, which can often be incredibly costly but significantly cuts down the time spent waiting for appointments.

Over half of those surveyed who had begun hormone replacement therapy (HRT) had accessed provisions through private healthcare.

Despite the extreme costs involved, a transfeminine recipient told TransActual that timely and effective healthcare access “saved my life”.

Additionally, other respondents claimed instances of harassment or abuse following gender-affirming healthcare had diminished, while others who haven’t yet accessed healthcare reportedly put their “lives on hold”, which came with increased mental health issues.

TransActual director of operations, Chay Brown, said that the state of trans healthcare “is one of pain, distress, and heartbreak”, adding that the lack of resources and transphobic practitioners were a major reason for the significant waiting times.

TransActual makes key recommendations for the NHS

The advocacy group concluded the report with several recommendations for the NHS and its gender-affirming healthcare strategy.

It advised researchers to improve data collection, monitoring, and transparency of waiting times in order to create an effective action plan to tackle demand.

There were also calls to review necessary legislation to “ensure necessary procedures and treatments are publicly available in a timely manner”.

Additionally, it called on both the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Surgeons to work with the NHS in understanding “the needs and rights of trans people in the UK”.

This would include efforts to “proactively develop the workforce that can offer transition-related surgeries in the UK”, as well as taking urgent action on the backlog of referrals.