'We shouldn't have to accept it' - the trans people waiting for 'lifesaving' care at Exeter gender clinic
Trans people in the South West have spoken to ITV News about what it is like being amongst thousands waiting for an appointment at the region's only gender identity clinic.
It comes as figures obtained by ITV reveal people are having to wait more than five years to be seen at The Laurels in Exeter - the South West's only NHS specialist clinic for adults.
According to NHS guidance, people should not have to wait more than 18 weeks for an assessment.
Kit Million Ross
Bristol podcast producer Kit Million Ross is one of the 2,702 people on the waiting list for The Laurels in Exeter.
They said: "It's lifesaving. That's the thing I cannot emphasise enough. It is lifesaving care.
"In any healthcare situation, if people are having to sit on waiting lists for an extended period of time, then there needs to be more provision.
"We've accepted that this is awful and it's going to remain awful.
"Waking up in the morning in a body that doesn't feel like yours... it's impossible to describe how heartbreaking that is.
"Some mornings I wake up and I don't realise that I still have breasts, until I roll over and feel them. That realisation on some mornings breaks me.
"But we shouldn't have to accept it like this. We shouldn't have to sit on waiting lists and put or lives on hold to be the people who we are.
"The numbers of trans people who end up taking their own lives is horrifying, and so many of them is because they can't access this care."
Amber lives in Longlevens, on the outskirts of Gloucester city centre, and has been on the waiting list for six months.
She has been on the waiting list for an appointment at a gender identity clinic for less than a year, but knows there is a long wait ahead for her.
She socially transitioned at the start of the first coronavirus lockdown in March last year, and says the decision to do that saved her life.
"It's a double edged sword, really. I'm happy to be on the waiting list, but knowing how long it takes and the fact you don't get any interim support from the clinic until that time is quite frustrating," Amber told ITV News West Country.
Amber currently takes estrogen and hormone blockers to reduce her body's production of testosterone, but aims to have reassignment surgery when she eventually gets to see a specialist at a gender identity clinic.
Despite the years she currently has to wait for an appointment, Amber is the happiest she has ever been since coming out to her family and friends.
The alternative for her was much worse.
"I didn't need to sit and think about it anymore. The thought process that I had was if I don't make this change in my life now and be true to myself, I'm not going to be around for much longer," she said.
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Ash - who wishes to remain anonymous - had to resort to private treatment because of the long waiting times. He has spent two years waiting for treatment.
"Had that not been available to me, I don't know what I would have done," he said.
"That's one of the reasons I reached out to you. Because not everyone is in that position to pay that money. It breaks my heart to know there is going to be people out there feeling like that, and there's nothing they can do about it.
He is one of many people that now pays for healthcare.
"I'll be entirely honest with you. Had I not done that, I don't think I'd be here today. I'd reached a really, really low point and just felt so completely helpless," Ash said.
"Trans care in the UK has become totally privatised. I don't think there are any gender clinics that have a waiting list of less than two years."
If you or someone you know needs to access support, the following websites have some useful advice and guidance:
TranzWiki - support groups and resources in your region
TransUnite - support groups and resources in your region
Gendered Intelligence - for young people aged between 18 and 24
GenderGP - health and wellbeing services
All About Trans - support organisations and resources in your region
Not Alone - based in Plymouth
Stonewall - support organisations and resources in your region
Mermaids - for young people and their families