Britain’s General Medical Council (GMC) is to investigate 39 cases where doctors and other medical professionals are accused of misconduct or mistreatment of transgender patients.
Speaking at the Trans Health Matters Conference, hosted by LGBT Consortium, this afternoon, Helen Belcher, a member of the UK Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity and GSN contributor, will provide significant new insight into how trans individuals experience healthcare.
Her evidence is based on a survey identifying 98 instances where individuals were prepared to come forward and make an allegation of misconduct or mistreatment against named medical practitioners across all areas of the NHS. It includes allegations of:
- Sexual abuse
- Denial of treatment, in some cases with potentially life-threatening consequences, ‘because an individual is trans’
- Inappropriate or damaging treatment
- Personal abuse
The results of this survey were presented to the GMC at the end of February by three trans activists including Helen Belcher, Liberal Democrat Councillor Sarah Brown and Zoe O’Connell.
Last week the GMC announced it was sufficiently concerned by 39 of the cases outlined that it would like to see further evidence, presented directly by the individuals involved. This is an initial investigation and in no way pre-judges the outcome of any of these cases.
A further 30 allegations were submitted in respect of policy or nursing care: these could not be investigated by the GMC, as they fall outside that organization’s remit.
According to Belcher: ‘This is a strong indication the GMC is beginning to understand the very real issues trans people face.’
However, she also expressed fears the GMC may not be able to provide sufficient ongoing medical support for complainants.
She said: ‘The reason why people have not brought these complaints forward in the past – why we believe the number of people responding to this survey remains just the tip of the iceberg – is quite simply the fear any complainant jeopardizes their own future access to medical treatment in respect of their gender identity.
‘While I strongly support the right of individuals to complain where they have been badly treated, I cannot in my heart of hearts simply encourage people to make such complaints if it means their treatment stops as a result.
‘The ball is therefore very much in the GMC’s court, and I hope they respond with a strong indicator they are prepared genuinely to provide protection for the trans community.’
Brown added: ‘I’m used to hearing terrible accounts of abuse from trans people seeking healthcare but some of the ones we presented to the GMC shocked me.
‘This abuse is still happening. The GMC looking into it is an important step towards ending it.’
The trans community has long had difficulty engaging with medical services, not only where they impact directly on gender issues, but also where they are wholly unrelated to gender. For many there is a sense lots of doctors are unable to see past the fact that a patient is trans and therefore respond inappropriately, sometimes in ways that endanger patient health.
This has been accompanied by a long-held belief that the press dwell on the sensational aspects of transition, while ignoring the very real discrimination that exists in the provision of medical services to trans patients.
The outburst of anger that followed the revelation in January by the Guardian’s former medical correspondent, David Batty, of an investigation into trans General Practitioner Dr Richard Curtis resulted first in the creation of the Twitter hashtag #TransDocFail.
This quickly amassed thousands of tweets highlighting poor treatment of trans patients, which in turn led to the creation of the much more in-depth survey. Some initial results from that survey are being presented today.
The GMC were asked if they wished to comment in respect of the issues raised by this survey: they have not yet responded.
Anyone interested in making a complaint about the treatment they have received from a medical practitioner should visit the GMC complaints page.