B.C. becomes first western Canadian province to fund gender-affirming lower surgeries

Starting in 2019 transgender people in British Columbia will have access to publicly funded gender-affirming lower surgeries within the province. With the change British Columbia will become the first province in western Canada to offer these procedures.

“The trans community has advocated over a number of years for improved access to care, including access to complex lower surgeries within B.C.,” Minister of Health Adrian Dix said. “For those seeking lower surgery, people were required to travel to Montreal or to the U.S., resulting in additional medical risks associated with travelling long distance after surgery and in receiving followup care if there were complications.”

The reconstructive surgeries will be available from Vancouver Coastal Health starting next year. The province has also expanded the access to gender-affirming chest and breast surgeries.

A total of 14 surgeons will provide chest and breast surgeries in Burnaby, Kamloops, Kelowna, Port Moody, Prince George, Vancouver and Victoria. Previously, people had to travel to Vancouver or Victoria.

“We are proud to be the first province in western Canada to provide these surgeries,” Dix said.

“While B.C. funded these surgeries, they weren’t being delivered close to home and support systems, and that is what we are changing now. This is about bringing care closer to home and offering an enhanced, more efficient, cost-effective solution.”

The B.C. government said the number of people travelling out of province for lower surgeries has been steadily increasing each year with approximately 100 people going outside of British Columbia for care annually. The government is now forecasting that over 200 chest and breast surgeries are expected to take place throughout B.C. in the coming year.

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“Having personally travelled out of province to access similar care, this is a significant step forward in improving the patient journey for British Columbians requiring these procedures,” trans educator Gwen Haworth said.

“Offering services closer to home reduces additional stress, uncertainties and expenses for individuals and their families. It’s reassuring to know that we will have improved access to experienced care providers throughout the entire process, within our home province.”

The expansion will be funded as part of the new B.C. Surgical and Diagnostic Imaging Strategy. The Ministry of Health has allocated $75 million in 2018-19 and $100 million in 2019-20.

Around 1 per cent of the population, an estimated 46,000 people in B.C., identifies as trans, a term that describes a wide range of people whose gender differs from their assigned sex at birth.

Between 2014 and 2018, the number of gender-affirming chest and breast surgeries performed annually has more than tripled, from 56 to 178. During the same time period, the number of annual referrals for chest and breast surgeries has doubled, from 179 to 376.

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