Activists have claimed the time for trans people to get male to female gender reassignment surgery has skyrocketed in England from seven months to three years.
And campaigners warning the trauma of ever increasing delays may push some trans people to suicide.
They say it’s because the one expert surgeon in London conducting most of the operations in the country, James Bellringer, has left the National Health Service (NHS).
And the top Gender Identity Clinic, in Charing Cross, central London, run by West London Mental Health Trust, is not referring patients to him at his new private hospital – which the campaigners say would be the best alternative and cost about the same.
That’s because the clinic is only allowed to send people to NHS hospitals.
Bellringer previously worked at a state-owned hospital run by Imperial College Healthcare in London and carried out most of the gender reassignment surgery for the NHS in England.
Bellringer’s departure followed another senior gender reassignment surgeon retiring a few years ago, meaning the NHS has essentially ‘turned off the taps’ to treatment, trans campaigners have told GSN.
They say it’s so bad that even patients who have complications after their operation can’t get follow-up treatment.
Campaigner Sarah Brown told GSN: ‘Complications are not that uncommon and infections can happen, stitches can burst and you sometimes need revisions. It can cause a lot of discomfort and problems if they are not dealt with quickly.’
And she says the psychological pressure of having to wait years for an operation after already having lived for years in the wrong body will take a toll on trans people.
‘If this situation is not fixed people are going to kill themselves,’ she told us. ‘It is extremely traumatic. These people have already waited two, three, four years to get a referral and then to have that snatched from under their noses is terrible.
‘If Imperial College do not pull their fingers out and stop playing silly buggers, someone is going to end up dead.’
A spokeswoman for Imperial College Healthcare said while their gender reassignment service is changing, it will soon be back to normal.
In a statement released after GSN enquired about the problem, Imperial College said: ‘To replace [Bellringer] we have appointed Ms Tina Rashid who will be operating a full time list by September.
‘This transition has led to a temporary reduction in the number of cases we are carrying out, but by September we expect to be carrying out the same number of surgeries as we did previously.
‘We recognize the impact of this on patients and we have therefore arranged for a small number of patients who have waited the longest to be treated in the private sector during this period.
‘We are very proud of the quality of care we provide to our gender reassignment patients and of the outcomes and benefits of this life-changing surgery.
‘There has been an increase in the number of referrals for this specialist surgery over recent years and we are in discussion with NHS England about whether to expand the service so that we can offer this to more patients.’
In particular they are seeking funding to take on a third surgeon.
The Imperial spokeswoman told GSN they are now carrying out two procedures a week, compared with an average of three and a half a week before April.
She added: ‘Currently the average wait for the surgery is just under a year from the point at which the psychological and psychiatric assessment has been completed. Before April when James left, the wait was 10 months.
‘Patients who wish to have this procedure carried out are referred by their GP to a gender identity clinic. This clinic undertakes an intensive process of psychological and psychiatric assessment which lasts at least two years, before the patient is assessed as suitable for surgery and referred to our organization.
‘Then funding must be agreed with NHS England’s regional bodies, which takes around one to three months. Once this process has been completed, we arrange an outpatient appointment, review clinical suitability for surgery, and then book surgical and other procedures.’
On the subject of patients with complications she told us: ‘Our surgeon Phil Thomas is seeing these patients with complications. There is currently a slightly longer wait than last year for patients with complications, but again we have taken steps to address this.’
And she said Imperial was keeping waiting lists under review and may transfer a small number of extra patients to private providers until their full service is restored but doesn’t plan to use private hospitals long-term.