New Zealand is planning on removing restrictions to the number of gender confirmation surgeries that can be performed every year.
The country currently limits the number of publicly-funded gender confirmation surgeries to three male-to-female and one female-to-male operations every two years. A decision to change the policy was taken in June, Kiwi publication Newsroom reported on Tuesday (October 16).
The government led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who became the first New Zealand leader to take part in a Pride march earlier this year, plans to turn the cap into a minimum target of surgeries performed, without setting a maximum limit.
According to data quoted in the Newsroom article, there are currently 105 people on the waiting list for gender confirmation surgery—79 trans women and 26 trans men. The number of individuals on the wait list is likely to keep increasing as more people are seeking advice on the operation, as a study published in January indicated.
“I am pleased to be taking action on lifting a cap limiting the numbers of gender affirming surgeries taking place. Our health system has never met the needs of transgender New Zealanders, and that has to change,” James Shaw, who is covering Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter’s portfolio while she is on maternity leave, said in a statement published on social media.
It is estimated that around 1 percent of the 4.7 million people living in New Zealand are transgender, but only 19 transgender individuals have so far been able to access gender affirmation surgeries via the public healthcare system in the past 14 years.
The country has consistently been facing a shortage of surgeons able to perform gender confirmation surgeries that has made wait lists increasingly long —those currently on the list face more than a decade-long wait, at the current rate of progress.
The one surgeon trained to perform male-to-female specialist in the country, Dr Peter Walker, retired in 2014. Another surgeon, Dr Rita Yang, has only recently begun to exercise in that space taking on the first eight trans women on the top of the waiting list, according to the organisation Gender Minorities Aotearoa.
The public healthcare system remains unable to provide female-to-male surgeries in the country, with trans men needing to travel overseas for the operation.
Gender confirmation surgeries are one of the medical procedures funded by the government through the High-cost Treatment Pool, which covers one-off treatments not otherwise funded by the public health system and has a budget fluctuating on the basis of need.