Twenty-eight Irish residents received HSE funding last year to undergo treatment abroad to change their gender, new figures show.
Of these, six underwent so called “sex-change” surgery, while the others were in the process of transitioning their gender, information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows.
Gender reassignment surgery is not performed in the State but can be arranged in another jurisdiction under the HSE’s treatment abroad scheme. The process involves psychiatric assessment, counselling, hormonal therapy, surgical reconstruction of genitalia, and other procedures to alter the patient’s appearance.
Between 1999 and 2010 the HSE funded 22 people who had gender reassignment surgery in Britain – an average of two a year. The numbers have fluctuated since with 12 having the surgery in 2012, five in 2013 and four in 2014.
Based on pricing data provided by the HSE, the cost for the 28 people in the process of transitioning last year, to complete treatment, would be €845,600, excluding travel expenses and postoperative care. The cost of female-to-male operations is higher than male-to-female procedures, a HSE spokesman said.
Gender reassignment surgery is not performed in the State but can be arranged in another jurisdiction under the HSE's treatment abroad scheme
Vanessa Lacey, health and education officer with Transgender Equality Network Ireland, said the procedure was not one undertaken lightly.
A person could be waiting three to 10 years before they had the procedure.
“First of all you have to get an appointment with a mental health professional for an assessment and diagnosis, which can take a year. Then you’re referred to an endocrinologist, which can take another nine months to a year,” Ms Lacey said.
“Next you might be referred to a psychiatrist. So far this can have taken two to three years. Next there’ll be hormone therapy and finally you get to the point of gender reassignment surgery . . . It is a long, arduous process – not only for the person, but for their family too.”
Though attitudes have become more accepting in recent years, transgenderism was still much misunderstood and stigmatised, she said.
Recent research found up to 40 per cent of transgender people in the State had considered or attempted suicide in the previous 12 months. “So treatment is not a luxury. It’s not a lifestyle choice. It’s quite literally lifesaving,” Ms Lacey added.
It is a long, arduous process – not only for the person, but for their family too
The HSE said the numbers needing treatment were too low to justify providing a specialised service here.