If you want to access a gender identity clinic in the UK, chances are you will be waiting a long time. I don’t mean a couple of weeks or even months - it could take years.
Earlier this month, an investigation by Gay Star News and trans activists found all but one of the NHS gender identity clinics in the UK were failing to hit their referral wait time target. One trans activist has spoken out about her own wait for an appointment - a wait that lasted just over three years.
Trans people are being badly let down and it is not only unfair, it’s dangerous.
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day when we honour the memory of those whose lives have been lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. It ends Transgender Awareness Week, which runs from November 13 to 20 and helps to raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people and address the issues our communities face.
And there are many issues - one of which is the severe waiting times for gender identity clinics. A year ago, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a target of a maximum of 18 weeks waiting time for all NHS services. Our gender identity clinics are failing abysmally to meet it.
One clinic in Daventry has an average waiting time of 130 weeks, meaning patients are waiting more than two and a half years for a referral. This is an extraordinarily long time, a time filled with anxiety and uncertainty.
Trans people are far more likely to have contact with the mental health system, and are at much higher risk of mental health issues, self-harm and suicidal ideation than cisgender and heterosexual people. Earlier this year, new research revealed eight out of 10 trans young people have self-harmed and almost half have attempted to kill themselves.
As Dr John Dean told the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee all the way back in 2015, “not treating people is not a neutral act - it will do harm”. The longer we deprive trans people of basic but vital health services, the longer we put them at risk.
The NHS is struggling because it is chronically underfunded, not because trans people are hogging all the cash
To mark the beginning of Transgender Awareness Week, myself and Green Party co-leaders Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas wrote to Hunt to demand action on long wait times for referrals. It’s unclear what the Department of Health is doing to reduce these delays.
We have yet to hear back from Hunt, but the response from commentators on social media was sadly but unsurprisingly negative. We were presented with a list of other health services that people considered more important and accused of trying to divert funding away from them.
But this argument ignores the fact that of course trans people care about the rest of the NHS too. It’s just that trans healthcare matters as well, and no one else is going to make the case for it.
Besides, the notion that this a competition is entirely false. We don’t have to choose between cancer patients and trans patients. The NHS is struggling because it is chronically underfunded, not because trans people are hogging all the cash.
A thriving, properly funded NHS means everyone can be helped and everyone can have access to the healthcare they need, no matter what our gender identity is. This is about political choices and when it comes to the NHS, the Government is making the wrong ones.
So we continue our battle to get the treatment we deserve. Transgender Awareness Week isn’t just an awareness raising exercise, it is a rallying cry too. There is still so much we have to fight for.
And Trans Day of Remembrance reminds us not only of the wonderful people we have lost, but the hatred and violence that stole them away.
The Daily Mail and the Sun continue to foster an atmosphere of hostility and prejudice towards the trans community. Bigotry flourishes on and offline. Trans children are bullied at school. We have a long way to go.
I look forward to the year when we live in society built on inclusivity and understanding, and Transgender Awareness Week becomes simply a celebration of trans people, rather than part of larger battle for us to be treated equally and with respect. 2017 is not that year - but it will come.
Aimee Chanellor is the Green Party equalities spokesperson