The NHS Gender Governance Group: Debates on “unintentionally creating she-men”

Following some excellent work by Emma Brownbill, copies of meeting minutes from the North’s “Gender Governance Group” (G3) have been uncovered. Formed in 2005, this was initially a forum for gender practitioners from the North of England to discuss their experiences but lately has taken a slightly more sinister turn. It seems the group is concerned about the more progressive approach taken by Charing Cross becoming the UK standard and wants to have input into the forthcoming Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Standards of Care and UK-wide NHS commissioning guidelines to ensure they can carry on as they are. (The UK-wide NHS commissioning guidelines may now not happen: it depends on the NHS Reform Bill passing)

Yes, you read that right: they’re worried about Charing Cross being more liberal.

Edit: This has also been written about by Emma Brownbill and Sarah Brown.

Edit 2: I’ve been advised I should add a trigger warning to this post: Some folk are finding this upsetting.

One could possibly forgive the group, which at the time consisted of just Sheffield, Leeds, Leicester and York, for not having heard of a “genderless patient” in 2005. After all, back then not many gender-neutral folk would have had the courage to be completely open with the NHS. One surgeon suggested this could be “Scoptic syndrome“, which I’ve never heard of, but may be a typo.

But the group hasn’t improved. Here is one quote from the minutes in 2009 that’s quite revealing regarding the attitude of some doctors towards their patients – the doctor works at Leicester GIC.

[A doctor] spoke to the group about the issue of unintentionally creating “she-men”: patients who have breasts and are on hormones but don’t have final surgery as they don’t want to go any further. These patients continue to live full time as female but with male genitalia. Many of the services present at the meeting had examples of this happening

Further comments also in 2009 show that the clinicians were “wary” of folk requesting just an orchiectomy, despite a surgeon present stating this wasn’t anything new and there were few follow-up issues from this treatment.

Glasgow had similar issues in 2010, referring to a “highly intellectualised” patient who it appears also identifies as gender-neutral, but is repeatedly misgendered as “he” throughout the meeting. Clinicians did not seem to know how to handle this situation due to a lack of an “evidence-base” (as if any of their other work relies on one!) Luckily (for the patient, not for the GIC!) they apparently know their rights and how they can be treated. It seems the patient may also have had to resort to legal threats, as there is a note that the Equality Bill (as it then was) “only mentions FtM/MtF“.

Think you have legal rights?

So is it just those people that don’t fit the nice stereotype and wear frilly dresses or excessively manly outfits to their meetings that they’re uncomfortable with? Sadly not. It seems they are not keen on any of their patients having legal rights at all. One of the rights gained under the Gender Recognition Act allowed people to have complete separation of their old records and details from their new ones, so you can’t be “outed” to medical staff. (After one bad incident, my details are withheld from the central NHS database, the “spine”)

Following a discussion in March 2009, it appears most of the members would discharge patients that actually tried to insist on this, as they were quite keen on their “right not to give care“. There was no discussion about finding an accommodation. Legal rights, or NHS treatment: a simple choice.

Similar applies if you ask for your notes not to be transferred. Given the approach of some doctors I can quite understand patients not wanting unknown material to be handed over effectively scuppering their chances of getting treatment. This is a no-no for many doctors. If you won’t let them see your previous psychiatric notes, they won’t treat you.

It’s probably no surprise to learn that the Department of Health wrote to lead clinicians at the clinics in 2009 reminding them of their legal responsibilities, although the Equality Act was dismissed in 2010 as not applying to the clinics because they work in mental health. (In Scotland and some other countries, gender services are not necessarily lead by mental health)

Even a Gender Recognition Certificate won’t help you. Also in 2010 a trans man (Who has a GRC and has been transitioned for a couple of decades) tried to push for bottom surgery without a second opinion, but they refused. The implication from the minutes is that either he had already had a negative second opinion or that if he did it would be refused as the Gender Clinic regarded his presentation as “chaotic“.

Presumably any non-trans individuals who want genital surgery because of an accident would also be refused if the doctors thought they were acting a little camp?

Based on the above, one might suspect the clinics have a few unhappy patients. Despite this, it was reported in April 2010 that the results of a user survey had “astounded” researchers due to the differences between the NHS and Independent Sectors.

Other organisations aren’t happy either

Other organisations have their concerns about some of the clinics too, and this has not made the members of the G3 group happy. There was grumbling about the Equality and Human Rights Commissions’ report into trans healthcare, with it being claimed “the document could lead to confusion to service users“. Similarly, Leeds were getting “harassing emails” which they found “not very pleasant” because a Department of Health leaflet “doesn’t reflect what they do“. I would guess the DoH leaflet probably states what they should be doing however.

Charing Cross do not appear to be too pleased either, as surgeons who work closely with them refused to accept referrals from Northern GIC clinicians until May 2010 and insisted on having a Charing Cross based doctor performing the second referral. The members of G3 felt that surgeons in London “did not appear to have knowledge of the credibility of services in the UK“. Given one quite vocal member of the group refers to his patients as “she-men“, I’m not entirely convinced they have as much credibility as they would like to think.

Going for a power grab

So, what are the next steps for the G3 members? The national Standards of Care may be published soon, so they keep saying, and the NHS Reform Bill could be more pressing as it would centralise policy. Once that happens, “in commissioning there can’t be any differences any more“.

One would hope that they would aim to work towards the new WPATH Standards of Care, but instead they are clearly wanting to stop things heading in that direction and force the more restrictive RCPsych/UK Standards of Care on everyone. They refused to let a private doctor join the group in 2007, unless he signed up to the new but still draft UK SoC.

It’s not surprising they want to stop others moving forward with care because as of 2008 at least one GIC, Northampton, were “not keen” on the old WPATH Standards of Care. That’s the previous version by the way, as the new one is even more progressive so they presumably hate that even more.

The approach favoured by some members want the group to take “clear clinical governance” and heavier involvement in national commissioning and the UK SoC, which they feel may be applicable not just to the NHS but also the private sector. If they do this, they hope the standards and guidelines will be “flexible enough for all teams to work with” as their current “concern is if they talk to Charing Cross to agree and commission then things will be modelled around Charing Cross.

But you can forget any actual trans folk or the private doctors having significant input into this process as these quotes illustrate:

When National Standard agreed there would be a one day event and we felt at that stage there was a need for a national body and that is should be for professionals only instead of users and carers

D also made the team aware that the largest independent provider in London, Charing Cross won’t talk to this person. so is there any problem in excluding the independent sector? K said the national standards of care is written for the independent sector and the NHS. A thinks the private sector is a bit of a complication at this stage

This approach would let them carry on with their current practices, such as Nottingham restarting people from square one even if they’ve been private before. (That was 2008, although they did insist they won’t take people off HRT)

For trans men, many doctors – although this is apparently a controversial point within the group – want the ability to impose a 12 month wait and two opinions before allowing top surgery (something that might be required for a trans man to pass at all) despite the WPATH SoC only mandating one opinion.

Leeds and Nottingham are currently requiring “evidence of physical examinations” from GPs for even a referral, even though this isn’t in the WPATH guidelines anywhere at all. Just the pre-surgical exam can be traumatic enough for transfolk when it’s with experienced nurses and surgeons, without an inexperienced GP having to go looking down there too.

I’ll close with this October 2011 quote:

Leeds have struggled recently with GIRES putting pressure on them regarding hormones and real life experience. Leeds clarified that they have two stages of RLE, the stage before hormone and assessment 6 months, RLE 2 years before surgery

This is the kind of regime that they’re fighting to preserve.


  1. what are the rules under the 2010 act as regards protected groups
    is it just people who have had gender re-assiggment surgery, because i thought it was much wider than that covering most of the wider trans community.

    Also where do I get a copy of the department of health guidelines

    the reason i am asking is i am sitting on a equalities panel for my local NHS department and they seem to think that the T stands for people who have had gender reassignment surgery something i plan to disabuse them of but external evidence would be useful

    1. For Equality Act protection, you only have to consider transitioning to get protection: “A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.“.

      The only other protections relate to having a Gender Recognition Certificate or not, which is entirely independent of surgical status.

      I’m not sure which particular DoH leaflet is being referred to in the minutes, but if you haven’t seen it already you may find useful.

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