A recent study by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has suggested that nurses lack the necessary skills to treat transgender patients. In fact, this usually forward thinking and politically correct organisation is surprisingly critical of the nursing care afforded to transgender patients in the UK.
The survey was carried out among more than 1200 nurses and it was found that 87% of those who had directly cared for trans patients, felt untrained and unprepared to meet the patients' needs. This is despite the fact that 76% of nurses had encountered trans patients during their nursing roles and 56% had cared directly for trans patients.
But the lack of care experienced by members of the trans community is not exclusive to nurses and the points raised in the research shine a spotlight on the way in which the wider medical profession treats non gender conforming patients.
Gender Identity Clinics are mostly run by psychiatrists and endocrinologists, but the word 'transgender' doesn't appear in the training curricula for these specialties. It is however briefly touched upon in the GP curriculum.
At least the RCN has tried to resolve the situation by producing its own educational document, published in June 2016 and entitled: Fair care for trans patients - an RCN guide for nursing and health care professionals.
This guidance, however, has not been replicated in other areas of the medical profession. Trans patients are still being laughed at in GP surgeries, told that 'it is just a phase' or that 'they will grow out of it'.
Kirsty Cass a trans woman who works as a nurse, has further fuelled the debate by openly talking about her own experiences as a patient, where she was consistently misgendered, frequently referred to as a him/he and even taken on to a male ward by the theatre porter, following surgery for possible cancer.
The RCN document is a breath of fresh air and provides the following advice:
• Be positive and proactive in your approach to welcoming trans patients to your care
• Always treat trans patients in a respectful way, as you would any other patient or client
• If you are unsure about a person's gender identity or need more clarity about how they would like to be addressed, then ask politely and discreetly
• Avoid disclosing a patient's trans status to anyone who does not explicitly need to know
• Discuss issues related to a patient's gender identity in private and with care and sensitivity
This basic etiquette and advice should be adopted by all members of the medical profession in any dealings they may have with a patient whom they expect might be transgender. I applaud the RCN for taking such a proactive approach to the subject and hope that those medical professionals working with patients will take these recommendations on board so that members of the trans community who are receiving treatment do not suffer unnecessarily in an environment where care giving should be the main priority.