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Western University survey finds gaps in health care system for trans, non-binary Canadians

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A new report from Western University is showing some ‘concerning’ numbers for transgender and non-binary Canadians when it comes to having their health care needs met.

The Canada-wide survey included almost 3,000 transgender and non-binary people and was the work of academic and community researchers across the country.

The Trans PULSE Canada project is the first national all-ages data on the health and well-being of transgender and non-binary individuals.

Greta Bauer, Ph.D., Professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the principal investigator on the study said the data was concerning.

“We found that trans people were likely to have a primary doctor, but that did not mean their healthcare needs were getting met.”

READ MORE: Is the world more accepting of transgender people? Yes, but many people still aren’t: Ipsos

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The first report from the Trans PULSE Canada survey showed that 81 per cent of respondents report having a primary health care provider and 45 per cent say they have had one or more unmet health care needs in the past year.

“We know from our previous research that this isn’t just about accessing gender-affirming health care, but that there were issues we documented in our study 10 years ago with access to primary care and emergency care,” Bauer said.

The numbers show that 12 per cent avoided going to the emergency room in the last year despite needing care.

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Survey participant Jelena Vermilion, a transgender woman, told Global News about the time she tried to refill her prescript with her doctor for an HIV-preventive drug.

Vermilion, who works as a sex worker, uses the drug Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) to help prevent the possibility of contracting HIV. Because of potential side effects, it requires her to get bloodwork done every three months to stay on it.

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Having been with the same family doctor for many years, she said things changed when some of the staff changed after her doctor retired.

READ MORE: NDP, Greens pledge to improve access to health care and surgeries for transgender people

Vermilion said when she was running low on her medication and was not able to fill her prescription because her doctor had not checked her bloodwork yet, she said she called the doctor’s office to follow up.

Vermilion said the secretary, who knew she was transgender from a previous conversation, belittled her on the phone, saying she ‘was not special’ for trying to get an update on her results.

“Never have I ever felt more alienated or made to feel like a burden by just accessing basic health care,” Vermilion said.

She then went on to explain to the secretary why the pharmacy required the doctor’s approval on the bloodwork before it could be approved.

“I felt like it was wrong for me to advocate for my health care.”

This new data will be the first update on these numbers in 10 years for Ontario and Bauer said this would also be the first time there is data for transgender people and non-binary for every province and terror.

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“Where we had good data in Ontario, we had effectively no data for different parts of the country.”

“Some of our future research will focus on the roles different factors play in accessing health care, for example, physician knowledge or anticipated discrimination,” she said.