State paid for 14 sex-change operations over five years

Wed, Sep 14, 2011, 01:00

NEW FIGURES from the Health Service Executive show 14 people were approved to travel abroad for gender reassignment surgery over a five-year period.

The surgery is not available in Ireland, but under the E112 scheme it can be arranged abroad and funded by the executive.

Gender reassignment surgery is part of a treatment for gender identity disorder and involves the reconstruction of genitalia to resemble that of the opposite sex.

The E112 scheme, or Treatment Abroad Scheme, provides a fund for treatments not currently available in Ireland which have been proven to be medically necessary.

They can be carried out in any EU country or in Switzerland.

Figures from the executive show 14 patients travelled outside the State for gender reassignment surgery from 2005 to 2010. Most of the operations were carried out in the UK, and none of the applications for treatment under the scheme were rejected.

Female-to-male transgender operations can cost up to €60,000, excluding travel expenses and post-operative therapy costs. Male-to-female procedures cost about €30,000.

Fine Gael deputy for Galway West Brian Walsh called on the executive to stop funding the operations.

He said private healthcare insurers do not cover sex-change operations on the basis the procedures are not considered to be medically necessary.

“There is a body of opinion within the medical profession that considers the surgery to be entirely inappropriate for the treatment of gender identity disorder,” he said.

Patients in “overstretched emergency departments” would be outraged to discover the executive had been paying for people to undergo sex-change operations abroad while it cannot provide a hospital bed for those who need it most at home, he said.

Mr Walsh said he was aware of patients with “very serious conditions” who had been denied funding for treatment abroad under the E112 scheme. “Yet the HSE are financing what many clinicians consider to be essentially cosmetic procedures,” he said.

“If, in fact, the surgery is within the definition of what is medically necessary, the question must be asked why the procedures are not provided within the State at present?”

In a statement, the executive said before a patient travels abroad medical evidence must be provided to it by the referring hospital consultant.

The consultant must recommend the patient be treated in another EU country, and certify the treatment is medically necessary and a proven form of medical treatment.

The treatment must also take place in a recognised hospital or other institution.

The executive said the total cost of the procedures to the State was not available as the information was “commercially sensitive”.