The New Zealand government has lifted the cap on gender reassignment surgery after building up a 30-year waiting list and plans to dramatically increase the number of surgeries available to transgender patients, reports the Guardian.
The number of publicly funded surgeries was previously capped at three male-to-female surgeries and one female-to-male every two years, resulting in a 100-person waiting list spanning multiple decades. The new Labour coalition government will flip the policy on its head, and make the previous cap the new minimum, no longer implementing a cap for the maximum number of surgeries.
In the 1990s, New Zealand was a world leader in gender reassignment surgeries, offering low-cost procedures and welcoming patients from around the globe with a progressive and open attitude. However, when the country’s only specialist in the surgery retired in 2014, the waiting list increased exponentially and patients were forced to risk accepting low-rate surgeries overseas.
Lynda Whitehead, an advocate for Tranzaction Aoteroa, spoke on behalf of the transgender community, expressing their elation with the news about the surgery cap being lifted and noting that it felt good to finally be seen and respected by the government.
“It is going to make such a lot of different to a lot of people, and there is great relief and excitement in the trans community. It gives people hope, and before there was very little or no hope. As a community we have been ignored and put on the back burner for a long time. But it feels like our concerns have finally fallen on sympathetic ears.”
In 2016, the Guardian reported that they spoke with one New Zealand man, by the name of Vic Roper, who hadn’t even bothered joining the waiting list, saying that “by the time I got to the top of the list, I would be too old to appreciate it.” Now, he is scheduled for surgery in November.
“Trans people have an incredibly high suicide rate and this is practical action that will help people have an improved sense of mental health and wellbeing. It was not a waiting list before, it was a ‘We’ll put your name here and never think about it again’ list. I feel the Labour government has a really different perspective on the country and who gets priority. They are really thinking about minority groups and trying to give them more of an even playing field.”
There are currently 111 people waiting for the surgery, 84 male to female, and 27 female to male.