Whole system change needed in gender identity services

My Post (5)Gender identity services in the NHS are failing to meet the needs of patients. Huge delays in treatment are forcing many to go private or abroad, while a lack of funding and suitably trained staff means patients are not receiving adequate care.

Gender dysphoria is a condition whereby a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity (NHS Choices, 2016). Figures estimate there are 650 000 people in the UK living with gender dysphoria, which is equal to 1% of the population (Women and Equalities Committee, 2016). This is expected to rise as society’s increasing tolerance and acceptance of transgenderism has encouraged more people to come forward and seek medical help.

In the UK, transgender people’s health needs regarding gender dysphoria are being met at specialised NHS gender identity clinics or through private care. At present, all GPs in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland may refer their patients directly to a gender identity clinic, and do not need to refer them to a mental health service for assessment beforehand. In Wales, however, GPs have to refer first to a local psychiatrist, who assesses the patient and can recommend they are referred for assessment and treatment at a gender identity clinic (General Medical Council (GMC), 2017).

Unacceptable waiting times
Waiting times for people with gender dysphoria before their first appointment at an NHS gender identity clinic are unacceptable, as are the times for subsequent gender reassignment surgery, should it be wanted. This, in turn, has a massive impact on the health and wellbeing of trans patients. According to the GMC, the risk of self-harm and suicide for trans people is much greater than in the general population, and any delays in accessing medical care can substantially increase these risks (GMC, 2017).

Under the NHS Constitution, patients are legally entitled to have their first appointment at a specialist service within 18 weeks of referral (Department of Health, 2015). However, due to increased demand, some transgender patients have found themselves waiting up to 4 years for an appointment (Lyons, 2016). Remarkably, it was only in January 2015 that the NHS accepted that the 18-week principle applies to gender identity services too (Women and Equalities Committee, 2016).

It is because of these long waiting times that many trans people are turning to private care—but this does not come cheap. Initial appointments can cost between £220 and £280, and tend to cover assessment, diagnosis and recommendations. It is generally after two appointments that hormone therapy is started.

The cost of gender reassignment surgery varies considerably and prices range from £10 000 to £20 000. In desperation, many are turning to far-flung destinations, such as Thailand, to have this surgery.

Things need to change
In an attempt to meet the increased demand on gender identity services, NHS England invested an additional £6.5 million in this area this year. It is hoped this will go some way to reducing waiting times. However, despite increased funding, there is no detracting from the stark truth that the NHS is letting transgender people down. Notably, according to a Government report on transgender equality, the NHS is ‘failing in its legal duty under the Equality Act’ (Women and Equalities Committee, 2016).

A lack of knowledge and understanding among many clinicians and staff within the NHS has meant transgender people all too often encounter significant problems, whether through prejudice or the provision of inappropriate care. Additionally, other commonly cited concerns include too much variation in clinical protocols, confusion about what is available in the NHS, and inequitable access arrangements (Women and Equalities Committee, 2016).

Following this report, NHS England asked its Clinical Reference Group for Gender Identity to make recommendations on new service specifications for these specialist clinics. This led to a 12-week public consultation on proposals for new service specifications that, if adopted, will describe how specialised gender identity services for adults will be commissioned and delivered in the future within England. The final decisions will be made at the end of autumn 2017.

Relationship between public and private services
Among the changes set out in the consultation include a proposal that only designated specialist gender identity clinics will be able to refer individuals for reassignment surgery in the NHS. This would mean other NHS professionals or private clinics would not be able to make the referrals. The decision was made because it is felt the multidisciplinary teams of gender identity clinics are best placed to consider an individual’s suitability for surgery in the context of the relevant medical, psychological, emotional and social issues (NHS England, 2017). They are also able to accurately gauge the likely range of risks in each case.

Unfortunately this means patients would be unable to begin down the private pathway of care for an initial assessment and diagnosis, before moving to the NHS for gender reassignment surgery. Though this would go some way to diverting pressures on NHS services, it could be argued that boundaries of care between private and public could be blurred, making it difficulty to ensure safety and quality of care. Equally, referrals to an NHS gender clinic would have to come through an NHS pathway.

A gender identity specialism is needed
The lack of suitably trained staff to take on specialist roles being created in nursing, medicine, psychology and other professions is one of the key reasons for unprecedented demand on gender identity services. There are under a dozen people in the UK working both privately and in the NHS who can carry out vaginoplasty or phalloplasty operations (Parkins, 2016).

With the above in mind, there have been discussions with Health Education England, the GMC and the Royal College of Physicians about the development of a gender identity specialism, supported by appropriate curricula and recognition. It is evident that this is sorely needed; however, even at a grassroots level, training for GPs is insufficient, consisting of two online educational modules on gender variance on the Royal College of General Practitioners’ website. Without a proper understanding of this patient population, health services cannot begin to address their needs.

Conclusion
While momentum for change is gathering and the Government is beginning to listen, anything short of a whole system change in gender identity services would be insufficient. Waiting times are the most pressing concern that need to be addressed, with demand and capacity out of balance. Quality indicators are needed to assess quality and benchmark providers; a better interface with primary care services is essential; and increased understanding and knowledge across all health services is paramount. Transgender people have just as much right to care as anyone else, and health services and professionals cannot let them down.

References

Department of Health. NHS Constitution for England. 2015. http://tinyurl.com/d7sa3wq (accessed 23 October 2017)

General Medical Council. Good medical practice. Trans healthcare. Treatment pathways. 2017. http://tinyurl.com/grugw8z (accessed 19 October 2017)

Lyons K. Gender identity clinic services under strain as referral rates soar. 2016. http://tinyurl.com/hcb9uzz (accessed 19 October 2017)

NHS Choices. Gender dysphoria. 2016. http://tinyurl.com/ybt7rbj7 (accessed 19 October 2017)

NHS England. Guide to consultation: specialised gender identity services for adults. 2017. http://tinyurl.com/ydg3pfmh (accessed 19 October 2017)

Parkins K. Meet the gender reassignment surgeons: ‘Demand is going through the roof’. 2016. http://tinyurl.com/hdblcpg (accessed 19 October 2017)

Women and Equalities Committee. Transgender equality: first report of session 2015–16. 2016. http://tinyurl.com/y8sftc2h (accessed 19 October 2017)

Taken from British Journal of Cardiac Nursing, published November 2017.

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Dental Nursing News February 2016

DN News FebPatients test positive for Hepatitis C

dental nurse who spoke out about hygiene conditions at a dentist’s surgeries in Ayrshire—sparking an HIV scare for 5600 patients—was told by the practice manager: ‘no one has caught anything yet,’ a disciplinary hearing has heard.

The nurse, who remains anonymous and is identified only as ‘Dental Nurse One’, contacted the NHS Ayrshire and Arran health board on 16 September 2013, after she was told of the routine reuse of equipment in an area known for high drug dependency.

Dentist Alan Morrison is accused at a General Dental Council Committee of failing to sterilise instruments between treating patients and reusing dirty gloves at his clinics in Cumnock and Drongan.

An investigation was launched into the dentist’s practices after the nurse blew the whistle, sacrificing her new job. At a hearing in London, the nurse recalled how she was offered a job on the spot, but was told by the practice manager, Lorraine Kelly, of procedures that put patients at risk.

‘She then told me that, “We would do things a bit differently here”…She proceeded to tell me that the practices reuse gloves and matrix bands and did not sterilise aspirators.’

The nurse said that she was shocked at Mrs Kelly’s remarks but that the manager replied in a ‘flippant manner’ that ‘no one’s caught anything yet.’ The whistleblower went on to say: ‘Both practices are in areas of high levels of drug use and therefore are likely to have contact with patients with blood-borne viruses. Although Mr Morrison was not present in this conversation, it was obvious he was aware of procedures and practices as owner of the practices and a practising dentist.’

Many patients underwent testing as a result of being sent a letter. No patients had contracted HIV, however four adult patients tested positive for Hepatitis C. Of these, three had evidence of chronic infection and one showed signs of a previous infection.

It emerged at a health board meeting that two of the patients had received dental treatment on the same day.

However, it could not be established whether the infection was picked up from the practice or from outside their dental treatment.

Mr Morrison has admitted falsifying invoices for medical supplies handed to NHS investigators, which showed phoney purchases of single-use equipment, including matrix bands, but denies the rest of the allegations.

Morrison and Kelly are accused of failing to adhere to infection control guidelines and of being dishonest during the health investigation.

NHS England guide to unscheduled care

NHS England has published a quick guide to unscheduled dental care to help provide practical tips for dental providers and commissioners, and relieve pressure on frontline services.

Within the guide, dental health professionals are advised to ensure accessibility of services by keeping their NHS Choices profile and Directory of Services profile up to date, and ensuring their answerphone provides correct details for signposting to 111 for urgent dental care.

To relieve winter pressures on services, it is recommended that patients are encouraged to seek oral care early. Winter campaign materials should be used to promote oral health and seek early advice for oral symptoms, social media and practice websites should be used to provide information about oral health and access to services, and patients should be advised about taking good care of their own oral health.

The guide goes on to say that self-care advice and management of pain is essential during times when dental treatment services are not available. The dental case mix should be managed by suitably trained dental care professionals (DCPs), who should have the capability to book treatment slots directly with dental providers. Where DCPs cannot provide advice, it is recommended that there should be a mechanism for them to refer to a pharmacist or seek additional clinical advice.

The effective triage of patients with dental problems is also emphasised within the guide. It is noted there are a number of options for triage that could be used and the configuration will depend on local requirements, such as the Dental Nurse Triage service that is being procured in London. This service will receive patient information via NHS 111; return calls and carry out a clinical telephone triage using established dental algorithms; and provide information, reassurance and advice to callers and allocate patients to same day, next day treatment slots or signpost to an NHS dental service.

The service will be delivered by trained and experienced dental care professionals, and is planned to operate between 6pm and 8am during the week. It is also planned to operate 24 hours during weekends and bank holidays. The service will have a phased implementation from 1 April 2016 and align with NHS providers in London.

BDA suspends strike action

The British Dental Association (BDA) suspended industrial action planned for 26–28 January in support of the British Medical Association (BMA), as it seeks to rekindle talks to resolve the differences over the proposed new contract for hospital juniors in England.

The BDA has been following the BMA’s lead in disputing the proposed contract, and supporting hospital junior dentist members to ensure a safe and fair junior contract is put in place. BDA junior hospital dentists took action on 12 January, protesting against the erosion of patient safety and the potential impact on dentists’ working lives.

An announcement from the BDA on the proposed contract, said: ‘We feel it removes vital safeguards for both dentists and their patients. We want to ensure dentists are protected from being required to work excessive hours in a week. We oppose the plans for the extension of standard time from the current 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday to 7am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday, as we don’t feel this values dentists’ time appropriately.

‘We also object to the proposals on pay progression, which may mean some dentists are discouraged from entering specialist training, due to the plans to increase pay only when a trainee moves to the next stage of training and responsibility. We feel this particularly disadvantages those with families, because of the financial worries of taking time out of training for maternity leave or to work part time. It will also discourage those already in training from undertaking research or retraining in a preferred specialty, to the long-term detriment of the NHS.’

Further action for a full withdrawal of labour is still planned for Wednesday 10 February 2016.

Sound bites

Parliament calls for ‘complete overhaul’ of the General Dental Council (GDC). Members of the House of Commons debated the Section 60 Order which, if laid, will allow the GDC to introduce case examiners into its fitness to practise (FTP) process. This followed a debate in the House of Lords on the same subject, during which Shadow Health Minister Lord Hunt repeatedly called for resignations within the GDC.While the debates in both Houses were held to discuss these changes to the Dentists Act 1984, the main focus of the discussions was the performance, and the fitness to regulate, of the GDC. Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders raised the need for a ‘complete overhaul’ of the GDC, calling it the most expensive and least efficient of the health regulators, and noting the lack of confidence the profession has in the GDC.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published new guidelines on oral health promotion in general dental practice, placing a focus on giving patients the ability to make an informed decision about their care. The guidelines cover how general dental practice teams can give advice about oral hygiene, the use of fluoride, as well as how areas such as diet, smoking, smokeless tobacco and alcohol intake affect oral health in order to help patients make informed decisions about their own care and encourage preventive treatments. Dr Ben Atkins, a dentist and Trustee of the British Dental Health Foundation, was a member of the committee for the NICE guidelines. Dr Atkins said: ‘These guidelines outline a patient-centred approach to ensure patients who are using the services are actively involved in discussions and able to make informed decisions about their care.’

Taken from Dental Nursing, published 29 January 2016.

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