Nova Scotia says it is reducing barriers to accessing gender-affirming care in the province by cutting wait times for surgery.
Effective Wednesday, those seeking gender-affirming surgery will no longer need to include letters of support from a Nova Scotia specialist and another specialist confirming post-operative care if the surgery was taking place in the province, in their surgery applications.
It can currently take between six and 18 months to see a specialist in Nova Scotia, which more than doubled patients’ wait times, the province said in a release.
“People told us the application process for gender-affirming surgery created needless hardship and painful delays in getting the care they need,” said Health and Wellness Minister Michelle Thompson in the release.
“This can have a serious impact on their mental health, and it hurts gender-diverse people and their loved ones.”
The change comes after concerns were raised by LGBTQIA2S+ community members and care providers over several months. In May it was reported that the province’s only doctor performing gender-affirming surgeries said he will no longer be offering the service.
In a June interview with The Canadian Press, Halifax Sexual Health Centre executive director Abbey Ferguson said the majority of Nova Scotia doctors decline to offer gender-affirming care, which she says pushes patients toward her clinic or prideHealth, part of the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
As of June 13, Ferguson’s clinic had 850 patients seeking gender-affirming care and another 65 on its wait list, CP reported. Depending on what surgery is required, the process of getting letters from the handful of ‘overburdened’ specialists in N.S., can take years to receive, according to Ferguson.
On Wednesday, Minister Thompson said the government listened, and is making the changes the community called for.
“We will continue to work with transgender and gender-diverse Nova Scotians, hear their needs and offer supports more quickly,” she said in the release.
A psychosocial assessment letter is, however, still required for a gender-affirming surgery application.
As of Wednesday, the assessment can be completed by physicians, nurse practitioners and specialists “who have specific skills in gender-affirming care,” instead of a mental health clinician with special training.
Ferguson said in the province’s release the Halifax Sexual Health Centre is thrilled to learn that advocacy has been recognized.
“We are confident that the changes to the application process will have a positive impact on our patients. We are excited to reach out to patients currently awaiting specialist letters to tell them the good news,” Ferguson said.
Garry Dart, prideHealth co-ordinator with Nova Scotia Health, said in the release: “This is a great step toward more equitable access to gender-affirming care while reducing barriers and stigma. It is a privilege to be part of this change and to advocate for 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”
In the release, the province said 101 gender-affirming surgery applications were approved in 2021, and these surgeries have been an insured benefit in N.S. since 2014.
— with files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Ashley Field