Healthcare failing transgender people

Some trans and gender diverse patients would rather die than face ignorance and discrimination previously experienced in health care settings, according to La Trobe University research.

La Trobe PhD student Lucille Kerr surveyed 537 trans and gender diverse people from across Australia, asking detailed questions about their experiences in the Australian health system.

“We’ve found people being refused care, experiencing significant mistreatment, and having to educate their own doctors,” Ms Kerr said.

“Although some reported having found understanding, well-informed doctors, most of our findings are concerning, with some deeply worrying. We urgently need widespread training and education within the healthcare system.”

One interview participant was a trans man with lung cancer who told of having been stripped and scrubbed without privacy, whilst being photographed by another patient’s family. Those images were later shared on the internet.

He was then physically threatened by the family. He said: “They said I was a waste of space and they were going to kill me… I kept trying to relay to the nurses and the doctors that my life was being threatened, and they thought I was hallucinating… Eventually the dude come with an axe, and it was for the sake of a nurse who stopped him, she just said to him, ‘you can’t bring that in here’.”

A trans man with a BRCA-gene mutation felt ongoing frustration that hospital staff continually referred to him by his former female name. When he objected to being assigned a bed in a women’s ward, a nurse told him ‘you were born a woman, you will behave like a woman.’ The man cancelled all post-operative appointments and vowed never to return, even if it killed him.

“These patients deserve the same level of dignity and respect as other patients, but at the moment, that’s not always happening,” Ms Kerr said. “The majority of trans and gender diverse people will not always disclose their gender in a healthcare setting because they are afraid of mistreatment and the healthcare system does not collect meaningful data on gender. This means that their needs frequently go unconsidered, and this results in poorer health and wellbeing for this community.”

The report, TRANScending Discrimination in Health and Cancer Care, was launched at Cancer Council Victoria.

Todd Harper, CEO of Cancer Council Victoria said: “We are proud to be hosting the launch of this significant report today. The findings are alarming, but provide an outline of key areas that must be improved on by the cancer sector, in collaboration and consultation with the trans and gender diverse community, to improve outcomes and experiences.”

The report’s findings include:

  • 41 per cent of those requiring emergency care had at some point avoided going because they were trans or gender diverse
  • Participants reported many barriers to accessing healthcare - 69 per cent said an inability to find a doctor they were comfortable with sometimes or often stopped them from seeking help and 59 per cent said fear of mistreatment prevented them from accessing healthcare.
  • About a quarter of participants reported not having a health professional with a good understanding of their healthcare needs and preferences
  • Almost a third had to educate their healthcare provider on trans or gender diverse issues
  • One in five had been refused general healthcare
  • 14 per cent had been verbally harassed within a healthcare setting; six per cent experienced unwanted sexual contact and two per cent had been physically attacked
  • Half of people with a cervix said their healthcare provider had never recommended cervical screening, half had never had cervical screening, with only 19 per cent reporting that they were regular screeners.

Media Contact: Kathryn Powley | k.powley@latrobe.edu.au | 9479 3491 | 0456 764 371

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