Mental Health

26.08.16

Mental health trust to stop operating gender identity clinic

One of the seven clinics in England providing services to transgender patients is facing an uncertain future after the local mental health trust announced that it will no longer operate services there.

West London Mental Health NHS Trust has informed NHS England that it will end its contract operating services at Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic within six months.

The trust insisted that the decision will not leave patients short of care and is, instead, about the appropriateness of a mental health trust providing gender identity services.

Dr James Barrett, lead consultant at the clinic, said: “The gender identity clinic is not closing.

“To clarify, we clinicians have long felt that West London Mental Health Trust is not a good fit for the unique and specific service we provide (the vast majority of those we see are not mentally ill).

“Increasingly, we feel our patients would be better served by us if we worked somewhere better able to support and develop a more tailored approach to gender.

“There are a number of options in terms of alternative providers. We would not make any move unless confident that patient care would be markedly improved.”

Being transgender is classified as a mental illness in the World Health Organization (WHO) International Classification of Diseases. However, the definition has proven controversial, with the Danish government officially declassifying it.

The WHO argues that the definition makes it easier for trans people to access treatment, but a recent study in the Lancet found that the classification may force trans people to get psychiatric treatment instead of physical treatment to support their gender identity.

West London Mental Health Trust also said it needed to stop operating the clinic in order to allow it to focus more of its resources on integrated physical and mental health care.

The Charing Cross clinic is one of just seven in the country providing services including mental health support, peer support groups, hormone treatment and speech and language therapy to patients whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex.

It first opened in 1966 and has treated nearly 7,500 patients.

In its statement, the clinic said that its waiting times are “longer than [staff] would like” because of the growing demand for gender identity services in recent years.

Among the 4,075 patients in England waiting for a first appointment for gender identity services, 15% have waited more than a year.

Will Huxter, chair of the NHS England Gender Task and Finish Group, recently promised increased funding in order to cut waiting times.

West London Mental Health Trust promised patients at the clinic that it will ensure continuity of care when a new provider is found, and will not allow services to deteriorate or cut staff numbers in the meantime.

(Image c. Matthias Pahl)

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