Watchdog threatens NHS over fertility treatment for transgender patients

The NHS says ministers are responsible for the policy (Chris Radburn/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The NHS has been threatened with legal action by the equality watchdog if it does not offer transgender patients access to fertility services before they start transitioning treatment.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it took the first step towards a judicial review by writing a pre-action letter to NHS England on Friday over the “outdated” policy that discriminates against the transgender community.

Patients undergoing treatment for gender dysphoria, where individuals suffer discomfort or distress over a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity, can lose their fertility.

The watchdog said they should be offered the opportunity to store their eggs or sperm, otherwise thousands could be forced to choose between the essential medical treatment and not having their own biological children.

The NHS said the EHRC had “misplaced their fire” and pointed towards ministers being responsible for the policy.

But EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: “Our laws and our values protect those who seek treatment for gender dysphoria.

“This means that where appropriate, treatment should be made available in order to ensure that access to health services is free of discrimination.

“A choice between treatment for gender dysphoria and the chance to start a family is not a real choice. We have asked NHS England to reflect on the true breadth of their statutory mandate and the impact on the transgender community of these outdated policies.”

Individual Clinical Commissioning Groups currently decide weather to provide the “gamete extraction and storage” to patients, but the EHRC said “many” chose not to for transgender patients.

An NHS England spokesman said: “Decisions on which services are commissioned by NHS England are taken by ministers based on advice from an independently-chaired panel of health experts and patient representatives, using a process set out in primary legislation.”

The Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.