THE GREEN party is challenging the NHS to provide better healthcare for transgender Scots after failing in its commitment to improve waiting times.
Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, has appealed directly to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) to keep its commitment to “improve the experience” at the Sandyford Gender Identity clinic in Glasgow and “cut waiting times”.
The target was made in the health board’s Sexual Health Services Strategic Plan for 2017-2020, but the Greens say it has not been met and argue the Gender Identity Service at the clinic is “not meeting the needs of trans people in terms of waiting times or the care which is being provided.”
The party is also calling for the health board to set up an ‘alternative pathway to trans healthcare’, similar to schemes adopted in Manchester and London, which combine multiple gender identity clinics and are developed by, and for, the transgender community.
They have suggested the new model be adopted on a trial basis, adding that it would “offer greater choice and ensure that the highest quality care is provided for service users” while not focing them down “rigid pathways” to treatment and transition which exist currently.
Mr Harvie was joined by Glasgow Green councillor Kim Long in writing to Scotland’s largest health board about their concerns.
The pair said they were worried about the “provision of treatment for trans people within NHSGGC” adding “We recognise the outstanding work that the NHS has been doing during the pandemic and we are hugely appreciative of the commitment of the entire health profession during this time.
“However, both the Government and the NHS have repeatedly said that other health needs must not be ignored.”
They cited the waiting times for the Sandyford clinic as up to three years for an initial appointment, and between six and 18 months for a follow-up before any treatment can begin.
They said: “This lengthy waiting time means that many trans people end up forced to use private healthcare, with serious financial implications, or to self-medicate, including finding treatment online from questionable sources.
“As we see with many barriers in healthcare, this doesn’t stop people accessing the treatment they need, it simply stops them accessing it safely.”
They also argued that the reforms of sexual health services within NHSGGC “did not include Gender Identity Services, and therefore it is difficult to see evidence of any progress towards meeting” their targets set in the board’s previous plan.
Cllr Long, who is standing for Holyrood in the upcoming elections, said:”Trans and non-binary people are the experts when it comes to their own experiences, and their voices must be central to how services are delivered. Simply tweaking the current system cannot be the way forward when NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s own research has highlighted so many problems with how the system works, and a lack of trust from many service users.
She added: “We recognise that NHS budgets are stretched, but finding new ways to deliver these services is urgent to ensure that trans and non-binary people get the healthcare they need.
“Thirty six months is far too long for someone to have to wait for an initial appointment. It is not good enough.We want those services to be free and accessible to the people that rely on them.”
An NHSGGC spokesman said: “We are sorry if anyone has experienced a delay in their assessment and treatment. Meeting the healthcare needs of trans individuals remains a priority for the service.
“Sandyford provides national, as well as local, provision and the service is facing unprecedented demand with the numbers of people being referred far outweighing the clinical capacity. The waiting times have been further impacted as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic which saw services suspended for three months. The service has begun to recover since September 2020.
“We are working hard to reduce waiting times and have updated our initial assessment model which means that we are able to see a larger number of patients. We have also recruited more clinicians to our team. Despite this, demand will continue to be high for what remains limited resources.
“We welcome the Scottish Government’s development of a team specifically to consider a strategy for Gender Dysphoria Services in Scotland and we have already begun to work closely with them in relation to this.”