Concerns over ‘five year wait’ for Perth Children’s Hospital’s gender service

TransFolk of WA have raised concerns over protracted wait times for children and young people accessing the Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) Gender Diversity Service.

PCH’s Gender Diversity Service is a specialist outpatient service for the assessment and care of trans and gender diverse children and young people, employing a multidisciplinary group of medical professionals to provide information, guidance, consultation and assessment for medical affirmation where needed.

TransFolk of WA have launched a campaign calling for more funding for the Gender Diversity Service, after learning young folks could be waiting up to five years to complete the assessment process. TransFolk of WA Chair Hunter Gurevich describes the wait times as “untenable”.

“The Gender Diversity Service at PCH is the ONLY service that provides life-saving medical affirmation to trans and gender diverse young people (under 18 years) in the entirety of Western Australia. There are no other options available to families or young people who seek puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy, as general practitioners are reluctant to privately prescribe these medications to minors,” Gurevich says.

“A five year wait time is five years of untold mental anguish for each and every child that is not supported to affirm their gender. It is five years of unnecessary pain, not just for individual children, but for families that must watch them suffer, and for families that struggle with their child’s gender identity.”

Gurevich highlights the Telethon Kids Institute’s Trans Pathways research, which showed that nearly 1 in 2 young trans people attempt suicide, and warns this could be exacerbated by extended wait times for essential care.

“Many trans and gender diverse children will be unable to access puberty blockers at the appropriate developmental time to ensure that their body does not go through the irreversible changes that puberty brings. Puberty can be a highly distressing experience for trans and gender diverse children due to their body changing in ways that don’t align with their gender identity.

“Additionally, when trans and gender diverse people cannot receive adequate medical care, some young trans people turn to self-medicating and purchase hormones online. This can be risky without medical supervision both for hormone monitoring and for infection control. Forcing young people to wait five years dramatically increases the risk of self-medication and further harm.

“The WA Department of Health retains as a central principle the timeliness of provision of service. Five years is an utter mockery of that principle. Moreover, we have a vast array of evidence that show that earlier treatment and even prevention of health issues saves lives and saves money in the long term. Thus, it is unfathomable that WA Department of Health has allowed the situation for trans and gender diverse children in WA to deteriorate so far.

“It cannot be said that WA Department of Health has not been aware that demand for treatment at the Gender Diversity Service has been increasing. It can only be a failure to understand that resources should have been provided to prevent this spiralling out of control.”

Gurevich and TransFolk of WA are urging the McGowan Government to find resources to ensure PCH’s Gender Diversity Service is able to reduce this wait time and ensure young trans and gender diverse people are receiving the care they need.

In a statement delivered to ABC Radio’s Drive program with Geoff Hutchison, Chief Executive at the Child and Adolescent Health Service (which oversees Perth Children’s Hospital) Dr Aresh Anwar disputed the specifics of the claim.

“The current wait time for an initial assessment appointment with the Gender Diversity Service is 12 weeks,” Dr Anwar said.

“The ‘five year wait’ refers to the wait time for an appointment for a Comprehensive Mental Health Assessment, which is undertaken by a clinical psychologist, and is an essential part of the process that can lead to gender affirming medical treatment. The current wait time for this is 4.5 years.”

“The long wait time is due to a number of factors; demand for the GDS has significantly increased in recent years and will likely continue to increase (in line with national and international trends) and will continue to outweigh the current service provision.

“Applications have been made to the Mental Health Commission for increased funding in the past and again recently to enable a large increase in service capacity.”

Leigh Andrew Hill

OUTinPerth contacted Perth Children’s Hospital for comment.

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