Action needed on gender reassignment surgery delays

Local Healthwatch across the country are hearing reports of long delays for access to consultations and surgery for people waiting for gender reassignment surgery, but how long should people wait?

Following reports from local Healthwatch, we have written to NHS England alerting them to the long delays being faced by some people seeking gender reassignment surgery.

Local Healthwatch from around the country have reported that a high proportion of people in England waiting for gender reassignment are subject to long delays for consultation and surgery.

How long should people wait?

There is an 18-week target in place that should cover both referrals of patients by GPs to one of the country’s seven specialist gender identity clinics, and, later, their listing for surgery. At present, however, many people wait for over a year even for an appointment at a clinic. Others, after years of treatment in preparation for surgery, face an average wait of nearly two years for operations at the busiest centre for people transitioning from male to female.

Our Concerns

We have written to NHS England outlining our recommendations for this issue and calling on them to resolve the following key concerns:

  • Considerable delays in waiting times for operations
  • Patients waiting for gender reassignment surgery are facing excessive delays, particularly for male to female surgery. Waiting times for male to female surgery are in excess of 21 months at the Charing Cross Hospital, which is a very clear breach of the 18 week referral right for patients and causes individuals significant distress and frustration.
  • Workforce issues and a lack of planning
  • There are not enough specialist consultants to deliver gender identity services. The unexpected departure of a lead consultant from Charing Cross hospital put added pressure on already inflated waiting lists, with no contingency plan in place. This shows a clear lack of long-term planning.
  • Poor communication and information for patients
  • The stories we have heard from people waiting for treatment show a strong lack of clear and timely communication to patients, causing them additional frustration and distress. People need to feel better informed and empowered during this intense, difficult process.

Next steps

We have had formal correspondence back from NHS England, to outline the ways in which they plan to address some of our concerns in the short-medium term. We intend to continue our correspondence with NHS England to ensure that progress in the key areas of concern is made.

We will keep local Healthwatch informed of progress and if we hear any additional concerns at a local level, we plan to continue sharing these with NHS England. If you have been affected by any issues regarding gender identity services you can get in touch with your local Healthwatch.