The Ontario government will move to allow more health-care providers to provide patient referrals for sex-reassignment surgeries, a move Health Minister Eric Hoskins said will reduce long wait times currently faced by transgender people.

Hoskins made the announcement at a Friday news conference at the Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto.

​Patients can currently only receive a referral for surgeries paid for by the province's health-care plan through the Gender Identity Clinic program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

Hoskins said the province wants to allow all qualified health-care providers throughout the province to be able to refer patients for this surgery starting in 2016.

"Every Ontarian has the right to be who they are," said Hoskins. "Our health care system should reflect this vision, which is why we are improving access to sex-reassignment surgery."

He said more and more Ontarians are experiencing gender dysphoria, defined as the distress caused by a discrepancy between a person's gender identity and that person's sex assigned at birth. Patients who need surgery often face long wait times. 

2-year waitlist

"One of the most vulnerable times for trans people is when they are ready for surgery, but face a prolonged wait," said Hoskins. "This change would reduce wait times by allowing many trans clients to get surgical approvals from their own local primary care teams."

The wait list for gender reassignment surgery currently stands at more than 1,000 people. The referral wait time in Ontario is typically now more than two years, a wait that will be "dramatically" reduced as a result of the changes, said Hoskins.

Hoskins said the new referral process for gender reassignment surgery will still be based on existing criteria and internationally recognized standards of care. He also said the number of people in Ontario asking for
gender identity services has been on the increase in recent years.

"We are moving from a single site [for referrals] to what could potentially be hundreds of sites," he said. 

The changes to allow local referrals will come in the form of amendments to the Health Insurance Act. Hoskins said the government will provide additional funds to CAMH while the transition to local referrals takes place. 

Patients will still head out of province for surgeries

Dr. Amy Bourns, whose practice includes a special interest in transgender health, said the announcement is "an amazing step forward." 

Hoskins was asked about the fact that gender-reassignment surgeries are currently not available in Ontario, even for patients who complete the long referral process. Many Ontario patients go to Quebec or other jurisdictions to have the surgery. 

"We need to look at the provision of the surgical services and we're looking at that," he said, pointing out the expanding referrals to health-care providers across Ontario as a "first step."

Dr. Amy Bourns at the announcement to expand referrals for gender reassignment surgery0:35