The Ontario government is expanding the number of gender reassignment surgery referral sites in the province in an attempt to reduce long wait times faced by transgender people.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced the changes in Toronto Friday morning, indicating that the government wants to allow more health care practitioners to approve the surgical procedures.
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Currently, the Gender Identity Clinic at Toronto's CAMH is the only place in the province that can approve publicly funded surgeries. There are currently about 1,000 people seeking a referral in Ontario; the ministry has said the wait time is approximately two years. Such delays have been linked to increased suicides amongst people who are transitioning, an issue that VICE explored in its recent documentary On Hold. The doc also highlighted the inconsistency of access to health care across the country; a hospital in Montreal is the only facility to provide a full spectrum of care while New Brunswick offers no publicly funded procedures.
Hoskins said the goal is to "dramatically enhance access" to surgical support, with potentially hundreds of sites for referrals. The changes will likely begin rolling out early next year.
"One of the most vulnerable times for trans people is when they are ready for surgery, but face a prolonged wait," said Hoskins. "This change would reduce wait times by allowing many trans clients to get surgical approvals from their own local primary care teams."
Susan Gapka, a training and education facilitator at Toronto-based LGBTQ charity The 519 called the announcement "historic."
"It shows you how far we've come," Gapka, who is trans, told VICE. "When I came out in 2000, there were no human rights, there was no access to healthcare. It was quite a grim situation."
But she said many barriers to trans health care remain, including the lack of sites where people can undergo surgery in Ontario. Doctors, she added, need more training and education in trans-specific health care issues.
Gapka said she hopes trans advocacy groups will be consulted by the province in the next steps. "This is a really strong and significant opportunity for moving forward."
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