Words by ITV News Health & Science Producer Alex Cherrie
Four patients have launched a legal challenge against NHS England for allegedly failing to offer first appointments at gender clinics within the legal timeframe, according to documents seen by ITV News.
The Good Law Project is supporting two adults and two children who have been waiting as long as four years for a medical consultation.
Solicitors have sent pre-action protocol letters to NHS England and the relevant hospital trusts responsible for the claimants' care. They have requested that they accept they are acting unlawfully and confirm what steps are being taken to provide alternative provisions for claimants.
Under current legislation, patients should be offered their first appointment within 18 weeks of a GP referral.
'I'm essentially left in limbo': Eva Echo says her life has essentially been put on hold
There are seven NHS gender clinics in England and Wales, providing a variety of healthcare services, including speech therapy, hormone therapy, counselling, and surgery referrals.
Latest figures suggest that 26% of Transgender patients are waiting over two years to access Gender Identity Development Services.
One of the claimants, Eva Echo, has been waiting four years for her first consultation.
She told ITV News that "trying to navigate the NHS system has been incredibly daunting."
"Having to wait four years... when it should be up to a maximum of 18 weeks has been incredibly difficult," she said.
"My life has essentially been put on hold. I've had to face gender dysphoria on my own because they don't offer any mental health support in the meantime. I'm essentially left in limbo."
'Each time I look in the mirror, I hate what I see because it doesn't align with my gender identity'
Jo Maugham, the Director at Good Law Project said: "Long waiting times compel many thousands of trans people to live in bodies that cause them great distress because they have already gone through puberty. To confront them with this fact, when they know a safe treatment exists, is unimaginably cruel.
“The government must start listening to trans people, their families and medical experts and commission services so people are not deprived of the healthcare the rest of us take for granted.”
NHS England has responded to the legal challenge.
A spokesperson told ITV News: “The NHS is working hard to tackle the Covid backlogs that have inevitably built up during the pandemic across a range of services.
"Demand for gender identity services continues to rise as more people feel able to come forward for support and NHS investment is increasing to meet the extra demand.”