Scottish protocol for Gender Services (largely) adopted in England

It appears that much of the widely-lauded NHS Scotland Gender Reassignment Protocol will be adopted in England from 1st June 2013.

This will be a temporary measure, taken as the result of “inconclusive feedback through the consultation exercise on specifications and policies” for the English Protocol. Last year, the draft English Protocol was criticised by many trans people for failing to live up to the progressive standard set by the Scottish Protocol. I wrote about this here.

This information comes from a letter written to stakeholders in the Gender Identity Services Clinical Reference Group.


What will this mean for English patients in the short term?

As the Scottish Transgender Alliance noted in July 2012, the Scottish Protocol “is not perfect but it is an important step forward for trans people in Scotland“. It incorporates a number of clauses that ensure relatively swift access to services (including hormone therapy and surgeries) for those already “in the system” and on the books of a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC).

Key features of the temporary Protocol for England would therefore include:

  • that psychotherapy/counselling, support and information should be made available to people seeking gender reassignment and their families where needed.
  • that two gender specialist assessments and 12-months experience living in accordance with desired gender role are needed for referral for NHS funded genital surgeries
  • only one gender specialist assessment is needed for referral for speech therapy, hormone treatment and FtM chest reconstruction surgery and that these can take place in an individualised patient-centred order either prior to starting the 12-month experience or concurrently to the 12-month experience.

(Bullet points from the Scottish Transgender Alliance. Emphasis mine.)

All of these provisions should (in theory!) entail a more rapid, efficient access to services for patients at many English GICs.


Exceptions

Unfortunately, several particularly progressive aspects of the Scottish Protocol will not be adopted in England. According to the letter sent out to stakeholders, these include:

  • Referral to Gender Identity Clinics (access)
  • Facial hair removal
  • Breast augmentation

Discussion on these areas” is being “deferred” because “it is recognised these need further discussion and also because England’s health service is structured differently and therefore a slightly different approach will be necessary

The first point (“referral to Gender Identity Clinics”) is somewhat ambiguous, but appears to mean that provisions made in Scotland for self-referral and referral by GP to GICs will not be implemented in England, at least in the short term. Most English GICs currently only accept referrals from mental health specialist such as psychiatrists, so this looks set to continue.

The letter further states that:

“[...] decisions relating to direct access, facial hair removal and breast augmentation being deferred by all NHS England Area Teams until after the June meeting when further work can be undertaken to reach the interim NHS England Policy and Specification for adoption. Where an individual has already had agreement for any of these procedures then these would go ahead, the deferment relates to decisions not yet made.”

This would appear to imply that no new referrals will be provided for facial hair removal and breast augmentation on the NHS in England, at least for the time being. In most parts of the country this is the norm, but in some areas this will effectively be a step backward.


What about young people?

A final significant aspect of the Scottish Protocol is that it provided for the provision of better services young trans people:

  • that young people aged 16 are entitled to be assessed and treated in the same manner as adults in terms of access to hormones and surgeries.
  • that children and young people under age 16 are entitled to child and adolescent specialist assessment and treatment as per the relevant section of the WPATH Standards of Care.

(Bullet points from the Scottish Transgender Alliance. Emphasis mine.)

It’s not clear whether or not this part of the Protocol will come into play in England, but I suspect that this counts as “access to Gender Identity Clinics”, meaning that nothing will change – in the short term at least.


Analysis

I would suggest that this development is, on the whole, a positive one for the majority of trans patients in England. It will hopefully ensure a number of improvements in access to treatment, particularly for individuals seeking hormone therapy and individuals on the transmasculine spectrum seeking chest surgery (including for individuals seeking chest surgery prior to hormone therapy, or chest surgery without any accompanying hormone therapy). It should encourage GICs to acknowledge trans diversity and provide treatment more adequately tailored to individual circumstance.

Moreover, the implementation of this Protocol means that some of the more regressive elements of the draft English Protocol (such as the requirement for GPs to undertake a “physical examination” ) will hopefully not see the light of day.

Of course, there will continue to be resistance from some of the more conservative GICs. However, the existence of the temporary protocol should empower patients who wish to make the case for better services from these bodies.

It is important to note once again that this is a temporary measure, and that the new English Protocol that is eventually implemented may not necessarily reflect the Scottish Protocol to such a great extent. A meeting will be held in June for members of the Clinical Reference Group to discuss what might happen next. We can only hope that the outcome will be a positive one for trans patients.

However, this move sets an important precedent. A set of relatively progressive new rules are being put in place, meaning that it should be harder for GICs to justify inadequate service provision. This is a new benchmark which health campaigners can use as a starting point for future campaigns.

Finally, the “inconclusive feedback” from “consultation” suggests that pressure from trans health advocates is actually having an effect, particularly as many GICs will no doubt have been pushing for a continuation of the status quo. Credit is due to all those individuals and organisations that responded to the consultation on the draft English protocol a year ago, and members of the Clinical Reference Group who are pushing for positive change.

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4 Responses to “Scottish protocol for Gender Services (largely) adopted in England”

  1. Cathy Says:

    I am not sure what the issue is with Charing Cross. I first went to Charring Cross in 2002 and never went back. I have recently gone back after a decade and the service and the location of the clinic which is no longer in the main hospital but more like a private clinic is an appropriate and excellent setting for trans people of all kinds.

    I think Charing Cross is much better now. All this nonsense that you have to dress as a female before getting hormones, yes it’s stressful but it sorts out those who really want a transgender lifestyle from those that don’t.

  2. Allie Hughes Says:

    Hi,

    My name’s Allie, I’m just starting out on a Social Policy PHD, looking at access to GIC services in the UK.

    I wondered where you are quoting from when discussing the delay in implementing new English guidelines due to ‘Inconclusive feedback’ etc. If you have access to whatever document that is, I wonder if you could send it along to me? My email’s forward.again@gmail.com. I’d be very grateful for your help on this one because I cannot find those quotes anywhere else on the net.

    Love and solidarity,

    Allie

    • Ruth Says:

      Hi Allie,

      The quote is from the letter sent to members of the stakeholder group consulted on the draft English protocol. I’ve sent you an email about this.

  3. Provisional English Protocol for Gender Reassignment, 2013-2014 | Writings of a Trans Activist Says:

    […] more in-depth discussion of these changes – and comparisons to the Scottish Protocol – here (please note that there have been changes since I wrote that post – e.g. GPs should now be […]

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