RCH Gender Dysphoria Service welcomes $6 million funding boost

RCH patient Ollie. Image courtesy of the Age.
RCH patient Ollie. Image courtesy of the Age.

The RCH Gender Dysphoria Service will receive $6 million over four years from the Victorian Government to provide improved care to transgender children, the government announced today.

The Gender Dysphoria Service provides a range of medical and mental health assessment, treatment and management services to children and adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is when a person’s biological sex is not congruent with the gender to which they identify.

The service’s waiting list has grown exponentially since it received its first referral in 2003, with the wait now at 14 months. It’s estimated that between 120 and 150 new referrals will be received this year alone.

Dr Michelle Telfer, Clinical Lead at the RCH Centre for Adolescent Health, says the increase in referrals is likely due to greater awareness of the service and greater societal acceptance of transgender people.

“The number of people with gender dysphoria is unchanged. But people are feeling safe to come forward, now that society is increasingly accepting,” she said.

“A lot of the young people who would have been suffering in silence have now got an opportunity to improve their lives and be who they are.”

The government funding will be directed toward psychologists, psychiatrists and paediatricians for the service. It will also pay for medication, including puberty blockers, which buy a young person time to consider whether they will continue on to transition using hormone therapy.

“Puberty blockers allow the young person to grow emotionally, socially, and psychologically, but their body doesn’t develop secondary sexual characteristics,” Michelle said.

“This approach to treatment improves mental health outcomes, reduces anxiety, reduces depression and decreases the suicide risk significantly,” she said.

The service had been able to take only one new patient a week. Dr Telfer hopes the new funding will reduce the waiting list to four to six months.

Minister for Equality, Martin Foley, said the additional funding would ensure children and adolescents access the specialist doctors and support services they needed in a timely way.

“The Gender Dysphoria Service at The Royal Children’s makes a huge difference to the well-being of very vulnerable young people and their families. This clinic saves lives,” he said.

The Age published a story in April about patient Ollie, who attends the RCH Gender Dysphoria Service. You can read the story here.

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