The Welsh Health Minister has approved plans for public funding of gender reassignment surgery.
Previously, applications for funding of such operations were only granted in “exceptional circumstances”.
Now Health Commission Wales (HCW), the body responsible for planning and funding specialised health services in Wales, has announced that it will pay for ‘sex change’ operations.
Gender reassignment surgery is already publicly-funded elsewhere in the UK.
HCW has also reviewed previous failed applications for funding since 2005, and agreed to fund approximately 20.
But critics of sex change operations say that gender dysphoria is a psychiatric condition which should be dealt with by psychiatric treatments, not radical physical surgery.
They point to numerous cases of transsexual patients who later have their psychiatric problem resolved and deeply regret the surgery.
In 2007 a doctor specialising in gender dysphoria was found guilty of serious professional misconduct because he rushed five patients into sex change surgery before they had been properly assessed.
Despite these concerns a spokesman for HCW said: “We have been working with the Gender Trust on the development of a policy for accessing this treatment in Wales.
“The policy will enhance access to treatment under clear access criteria.”
The move has been welcomed by transsexual organisations.
Benjamin Thom, vice-chair of the Gender Trust, said: “Welsh trans people had been dramatically affected by the [old] policy, leading to suicide attempts, public abuse and financial ruin.”
Stephen Whittle, a professor of equalities law and vice-president of Press for Change, said: “People still think gender reassignment treatment is a matter of personal lifestyle choice when in fact they are life savers.”
The Gender Trust estimates that approximately five people per year will apply for HCW funding for sex change surgery.
Transsexuals are people who have biologically normal bodies, but who believe themselves to be members of the opposite sex – they say they are ‘trapped in the wrong body’.
Transsexuals will assume the identity of the opposite sex. Those who undergo a ‘sex change’ subject themselves to hormone therapy and surgery to change their appearance and sexual characteristics.
In 2007 a leading psychiatrist for gender dysphoria, Dr Russell Reid, was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council (GMC).
The tribunal concluded that the doctor had acted inappropriately and not in the best interests of his patients after complaints that he had rushed five patients into hormone treatment and sex change surgery without properly assessing them.
Many transsexuals regret their decision to live in the opposite sex. A Home Office report on transsexualism said: “Many people revert to their biological sex after living for some time in the opposite sex…”
Doctors from the NHS Portman Clinic – an internationally acclaimed centre – have stated: “…what many patients find is that they are left with a mutilated body, but the internal conflicts remain.”