THE lives of sex swap patients are being put at risk by “horrendous” treatment waiting times, a charity has warned.
Troubled patients referred to NHS Lothian’s Gender Identity Clinic by their GP, whose lives are often in turmoil according to the Scottish Transgender Alliance, are being forced to wait 16 months for a first appointment.
The service has been thrown into disarray after its lead clinician, Dr Lyndsey Myskow, was allowed to retire without being replaced. The clinic has been temporarily shut down despite rising demand.
An appointment with a specialist is one of the first steps on the road to gender reassignment surgery, while counselling is also offered at the clinic.
Nathan Gale, a worker with the Leith-based Scottish Transgender Alliance charity, said a survey it commissioned showed that almost half of those questioned had attempted to take their own life at some point, and that excessive waits for appointments and treatment often had a significant impact on mental health.
“It’s not an overstatement to say these delays could be costing lives,” he said. “People feel NHS Lothian is letting them down.
“Trans people understand they have to wait, they aren’t looking for special treatment. They just want access to treatment like everyone else.”
There are currently around 60 people on the waiting list for the Lothian Gender Identity Clinic, which serves the whole of south-east Scotland. It is understood that at a similar clinic in Glasgow, patients face a wait of around half the time that they do in Lothian.
Mr Gale added: “Finally, after years and years of knowing they are trans, people pluck up the courage to go to their GP. Then they are just left on their own.
“In Edinburgh, it’s horrendous. During that time they’re dealing with the fallout in the rest of their lives. People lose families and jobs, it’s such a difficult time but they have no support.”
Dr Myskow retired in October and while NHS Lothian is looking for a replacement, an appointment has not yet been made.
It is hoped the clinic will reopen in the spring. Until the service reopens, patients are being sent to a clinic in Glasgow.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “It is deeply worrying that individuals in NHS Lothian are waiting well over a year to receive this support, and are being left to cope on their own in the meantime.”
After their initial appointment, transgender patients can wait a year to be listed for surgery and another three to undergo the procedure. Conservative MSP and health spokesperson Jackson Carlaw said that “genuine transgender issues” could create enormous strain on individuals’ wellbeing, but that the NHS “is inevitably driven by key priorities”.
He added: “While every health board will be motivated to do what it can to improve access to whatever service its population requires, reckless claims that delays are leading to increased suicide attempts is not the way in which to progress and improve the service.”
An NHS Lothian spokesman said it was “committed” to providing the service with additional funding and they hope to be providing appointments “soon”.
‘I THOUGHT ABOUT KILLING MYSELF EVERY DAY’
ONE patient left waiting after seeing their GP has revealed the toll it took on his mental health.
“I told my family I was trans in my twenties. It got to the point where I felt like my only options were to come out and start living as a guy or kill myself.
“After taking that huge risk and dealing with the fallout you feel desperate to transition. But then you’re hit with the reality of the situation.
“I went to my GP just a couple of days after telling my family and he told me that he’d never dealt with this before and he didn’t know who to refer me to.
“He told me to come back in a week, it felt like a lot longer. Especially because at that point I was dealing with everything on my own. My family were all too traumatised to support me.
“When I found out that I could be waiting a year or more to get my first appointment with the Gender Identity Clinic I was devastated. I was self-harming and just needed the treatment that would help me live as the guy I felt I was.
“I thought about killing myself every day. My mum and dad couldn’t cope with seeing me in so much pain. They paid over £3000 for me to get surgery privately. I will always be grateful to them. Just over a year after coming out to them I had surgery in London. It’s no exaggeration to say they saved my life.”