The NHS is failing to meet the needs of transgender adults and children, according to new research from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
The UK has seen a steep rise in the numbers of transgender patients accessing care with several gender identity clinics experiencing increases of several hundred percent in recent years.
However, recent reports from the RCN suggest transgender patients regularly face prejudice and a lack of understanding, as well as a persistent disadvantage in accessing appropriate health care.
A survey of more than 1,200 nursing staff has found this may be due to a lack of training, which is leaving health care staff without the skills needed to care for rising numbers of transgender patients.
Three quarters of those surveyed encounter transgender patients in their healthcare work, while 56% of nurses have cared for them directly.
However, only 13% of those said they had felt prepared to meet their patients’ needs.
The survey revealed a severe lack of training, with nearly four out of five nursing staff having had no training at all in this area, and just 1% saying their pre-registration training covered this subject.
As a result, only one fifth of those surveyed believe the nursing workforce has the skills to care for transgender adults and children.
The findings also point to issues in the care of transgender children.
Despite a clear rise in children experiencing gender dysphoria, with specialist clinic Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust reporting a 100% increase in referrals this year, only 14% of nursing staff said their current service is equipped to meet the needs of children who identify as transgender or non-binary.
Wendy Irwin, RCN diversity and equalities coordinator, said: “Over the past few years, rising awareness of gender fluidity has led to more people coming forward – adults and children alike.
“Building both competence and confidence in understanding is key to breaking through stigma, but as this survey shows, support through learning and development is urgently required if we are to provide the care and support trans people need.”
Fiona Smith, RCN Professional Lead for Children and Young People’s Nursing, said: “With such a dramatic rise in children identifying as trans or non-binary, it’s critical that all healthcare staff have the skills to help young patients through the difficulties they may be facing.
“Children often do not know how to seek help, which is why all nursing staff from school nurses to children’s nurses need to be prepared to tackle these issues whenever they arise. Training is needed throughout nursing education to equip the whole workforce with the skills and the understanding to provide the nuanced support these children deserve.”