Transgender people at risk of suicide and self-harm, says report

Waiting lists for treatment at gender identity clinics are long, leaving people at risk of suicide and self-harm, says a new report by a Sheffield watchdog.

Monday, 25th March 2019, 12:17 pm
Updated Monday, 25th March 2019, 12:18 pm
Margaret Kilner, chief officer for Healthwatch Sheffield

An investigation by Healthwatch Sheffield also found people had a fear of accessing services and some had bought treatments online without medical supervision.

Healthwatch Sheffield, an independent body, carried out an investigation into the experiences of trans people using health and care services in the city.

The report said: “Waiting lists for treatment at gender identity clinics are long and have a significant impact on mental and physical health.

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“Many people feel at risk of suicide and self-harm, echoing national statistics that 41 per cent of transgender people report attempting suicide, compared to 1.6 per cent of the general population.

“Other people told us they have used treatments bought online and without medical supervision.”

One person told Healthwatch:  “There needs to be strategic understanding. Lives are at risk. I am very robust but it has often made me feel like ending my life.”

Another added: “A lot of the time it feels like they don’t even care I’d already tried suicide a few times and I was just left to rot. Better communication would be great.”

On waiting lists, one person said: “There is still a long wait between appointments. Waiting times can be well over two years for most people, prescription prices and travel costs are a lot, since there are so few clinics.”

Another said: “I was originally told the waiting time would be about eight months for my first appointment and ended up waiting for nearly two years.”

Healthwatch says a significant barrier faced by transgender and non-binary service users is fear of stigma.

“Negative experiences with healthcare staff make people more worried about accessing services in the future, while positive experiences during initial appointments can help people to feel supported through the process.”

And it found a general lack of awareness of gender identity within health and care settings. This includes LGBTQ issues in general, rights and entitlements, awareness of which services exist and the referral process.

One person said: “I went to my doctor who said that’s not a health problem, you’re just gay. I got another GP who was more understanding but I was still really afraid of being discriminated against.”

Another said: “Sometimes a bad attitude can undermine what little self-confidence a person has.”

Margaret Kilner, chief officer for Healthwatch Sheffield, said: “According to official estimates, 3,418 transgender people live in the city and we know that across the country, the number of people seeking treatment is significantly increasing.

“There is clearly a need to improve the accessibility and responsiveness of healthcare services for Sheffield’s trans and non-binary residents.

“The most powerful theme throughout our investigation was fear of accessing services – a fear of discrimination and of unfair treatment.

“Perhaps because of these deep-seated fears, positive experiences meant a great deal to the people we heard from. People were quick to speak about occasions where health and social care staff had been supportive and keen to understand.

“Everyone involved in the NHS and social care must consider whether they are providing care to trans and non-binary people on an equal footing to people who are cisgender. NHS and social care providers have a duty to ensure that transphobia is not tolerated.

“We’ve made recommendations to commissioners and providers based on what the people we spoke told us. Doing nothing is not an option. We hope that by listening to the views of trans people things will begin to change for Sheffield’s trans and non-binary community.”

Healthwatch worked with local groups SAYiT, an LGBT+ and sexual health charity working towards improving the lives of young people up to the age of 25, and Transactive, which aims to help the trans community in and around Sheffield socialise and improve their fitness and mental wellbeing through sport in a safe, relaxed environment.

Steve Slack, chief executive of SAYiT, said: “While we know there are examples of good practice in some health settings, in terms of inclusive provision, we are also aware of shortcomings, too. 

“We sincerely hope this report will act as a catalyst in ensuring that the needs of transgender and non-binary people are more effectively and more sensitively met in all healthcare settings. It is vital that services respond to the needs of all of its service users.

“Transgender and non-binary people are not asking for special rights, but just to be afforded respectful, inclusive and accessible services.”

Visit www.healthwatchsheffield.co.uk to read the full report.