In a potentially significant step for trans people, Healthwatch Devon has issued a major report into the experiences, views and opinions of people using Gender Identity Services in England.
Healthwatch has “significant statutory powers to ensure the voice of the consumer is strengthened and heard by those who commission, deliver and regulate health and care services.” In the case of trans people, such powers are desperately needed.
In January the Parliamentary Inquiry into Transgender Equality found:
“The NHS is letting down trans people, with too much evidence of an approach that can be said to be discriminatory and in breach of the Equality Act.”
The Healthwatch Devon report backed this up. Some of their findings were:
- Waiting times for operations, which should be less than 18 weeks, are sometimes as much as 21 months.
- Demand for services for transgender people is increasing each year – but there are not enough specialist services to cope.
- Communication with patients is poor, leaving people who are waiting for help unsure as to when they might get it.
The report also notes that many trans patients are making use of private health providers due to long waiting times, bureaucratic mess-ups by the NHS, and lack of confidence in the service. Those on low income, and almost half of the respondents to their survey had incomes below £10,000 per year, were not being properly advised on issues such as travel cost reimbursement.
While lingering prejudice against trans people certainly does exist within the NHS, the Healthwatch Devon report concluded that many of the problems it found were caused by lack of knowledge. GPs receive little or no training on trans issues, and information on the NHS Choices website regarding the correct treatment of trans people was more than two years out of date. Thanks to Healthwatch Devon’s intervention, the latter issue should be fixed soon.
The Diversity Trust has been working closely with Healthwatch organisations in the South-West, and recently conducted a very well-attended training session for Healthwatch Devon in Exeter. We are also working with Bristol University Medical School to ensure that the doctors of the future are given exposure to trans issues as part of their education and training.
The report notes:
There are existing initiatives for training and support for health and care professionals to increase their awareness, some of which have been developed by Local Healthwatch and Trans advocacy organisations. We welcome this and hope that more general practice physicians in particular will take an interest and become Gender Identity champions in their localities. We recommend that as a result of increased awareness of the needs of people seeking help about gender identity issues, GPs, their staff and other community groups will encourage more access to information sources that are clear, easy to understand and concise, particularly around treatment pathways.
We look forward to continuing our work with Healthwatch to reach out to those on the frontlines of healthcare provision in the UK.
To read the full report click here