Government tops up gender affirmation services as surgery waiting list grows

The Government is topping up the budget for gender affirmation services and training for GPs to be better skilled in advising transgender youth.

But documents obtained by Newshub show that the number of people on the waiting list for gender affirmation surgery continues to grow, with some having to wait for more than a decade.

Ella Jenkins is a 22-year-old Kiwi in a brave transition to match her appearance to her identity within. She's joined the list to get her gender affirmation surgery publicly funded.

"Every morning I have to wake up knowing that how I feel inside and what my body actually looks like are two different things. At best it's a little bit of distress. At worst, it can really bring me to tears," she told Newshub.

"The fact the wait is so long is really heart-breaking," she added. 

"About 20 or so years if my maths serves me correctly."

In 2019, there were 198 people on the waiting list. Back then, the Government had just pledged another $3 million over four years to help reduce the wait time. But since then, the list has ballooned to 265. 

Figures obtained by Newshub show improvements to the service, with 15 surgeries performed since January 2020, compared to just 12 over more than 10 years from 2005 to 2018.

And with only one specialist surgeon available, resources are tight.

"Personally, I've been waiting for 10 years, since 2012," Ahi Wi-Hongi, who represents Gender Minorities Aotearoa, a group advocating on behalf of trans people, told Newshub. 

"It took well over a year for my specialist to tell me I could get a referral," Wi-Hongi said.

Ella Jenkins and Dr Ayesha Verrall.
Ella Jenkins and Dr Ayesha Verrall. Photo credit: Newshub.

After reaching out to some members of the trans community to get an idea of how accessible the service is, the recurring theme is frustration and confusion over getting on the list. One person was told the list isn't accepting anyone and to try again in a year or two.

"Just fund it to the extent that you clear the list," Wi-Hongi told Newshub. 

The Government recognises the need for improvement.

"We're going to do work to up-skill general practice in those conversations and also provide clear referral pathways across the country," said Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall.

"The wait list is primarily an unexpectedly large number of people waiting to have that conversation and discuss their options," Dr Verrall added. 

"We're making sure that we're resourcing the team better to do those assessments faster and also making sure in Budget 22 there's funding for general practice to be better skilled in order to have those conversations."

The latest Budget included $2.2 million for gender affirming care, like hormone therapy, and $2.5 million to train GPs in advising trans youth.

There was no new money for gender affirmation surgeries - they're still being funded from the 2019 boost. 

It leaves little hope for Ella Jenkins, who is patiently waiting for that life-changing procedure.