NHS to protect trans youth healthcare from ‘unlawful’ discrimination after legal challenge

A person holds up a sign in the colours of the trans Pride flag (blue, pink and white) reading 'Waiting lists kill' referring to the huge wait times trans people face accessing gender-affirming healthcare on the NHS

NHS England has reportedly committed to offering greater protection to young trans people seeking life-saving gender-affirming healthcare.

Children and young people on the waiting list for Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) will now be protected by the 2010 Equality Act after a legal challenge by the not-for-profit group, the Good Law Project.

The judge’s ruling means that the NHS must consider the needs of those on the GIDS waiting list, and will have to develop policies which don’t discriminate against them.

The Good Law Project explained: “The NHS had excluded trans young people and children on the long waiting lists from its definition of ‘gender reassignment’, a protected characteristic, when designing a new treatment service.”

The judge ruled that “there is no reason of principle why a child could not satisfy the definition [of gender reassignment]… provided that they have taken a settled decision to adopt some aspect of the identity of the other gender.”

The win comes after The Good Law Project was granted permission to appeal against a High Court rejection of the organisation’s attempt to challenge the long waiting times faced by trans people.

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“It [the ruling over the GIDS waiting list] follows a court case we brought with five co-claimants in January to challenge NHS England over the extreme waiting times faced by trans people trying to access specialised healthcare,” the Good Law Project continued in a statement.

In 2022, four trans people, trans-led charity Gendered Intelligence and the Good Law Project were given permission to mount a ground-breaking judicial review against NHS England

The legal challenge was brought on the grounds that waiting times faced by trans people accessing healthcare at gender-identity clinics were unlawful.

The NHS has a statutory requirement to ensure that at least 92 per cent of patients using the healthcare service have a referral-to-treatment time of no more than 18 weeks. 

However, thousands of trans people in England face extensive waiting lists – between three and five years depending on what part of the country they live in – for even an initial appointment at one of the NHS’ Gender Identity clinics. 

High Court case
London’s Royal Courts of Justice houses the High Court in the UK. (Andrew Aitchison/Getty)

Describing the impact of waiting so long for healthcare, Eva Echo, one of the claimants in the case, previously said in a statement: “I would describe being on the waiting list as torture, and there were times when I felt that I may not even be alive long enough to receive my first appointment. 

“Being on the waiting list was no comfort, I desperately needed help.

“My mental health was worse than it had ever been. Coming out had allowed me to recognise my gender dysphoria, but I was left completely alone to manage it. I felt, and still feel, completely let down by the system that I thought was there to save me.”

Jo Maugham, the director of the Good Law Project, said trans people have faced “life-altering” and “sometimes life-threatening” waits for specialist NHS healthcare. 

“This court case will be a vital moment in the fight for healthcare justice for trans and non-binary people,” he added. “Healthcare should be for everyone.”