Letter To Robin Swann – 22nd January 2021

Originally sent to the Minister for Health, 22nd January 2021

Re: Activities of the Gender Identity Service Pathway Review Group

Dear Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA,

I am writing to you again today on behalf of TransgenderNI, an organisation supporting and advocating for trans communities in Northern Ireland. In “normal” times, we’re based in and run the Belfast Trans Resource Centre, the only dedicated trans community space in the UK & Ireland. Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, however, that work has moved online, and we have been supporting and engaging with trans communities across Northern Ireland who have attested to their dismay at the continued failings in the progress of and engagement with the Gender Identity Service Pathway Review Group.

As we have stated in our correspondence and meetings with you since your appointment as Minister for Health, and in our interactions with you and your party colleagues prior to that point, we are deeply concerned with the activities of the Gender Identity Service Pathway Review Group in their exclusion and marginalisation of trans communities, organisations, and individuals attempting to engage with this Review. 

Despite repeated attempts to engage with this review, during its establishment and throughout its operation, and further despite assurances from you and your colleagues in the Department and Health & Social Care Board at our most recent meeting, our efforts to work with the Review have been fruitless. The Pathway Review Group continues to have only one trans person represented on it, and no trans-led organisations. Most worryingly, none of the organisations or individuals involved in the Gender Strategy or LGBTQ+ Strategy, either from the respective Expert Panels and Co-design Panels, are represented or included in any meaningful way in the development of this new service model. 

To reiterate, this is not for lack of trying: from the start, TransgenderNI requested representation on the Pathway Review Group, alongside wider representation from trans and LGBTQ+ organisations and communities. The purpose of this was to ensure as wide a representation as possible, delivering a new service with trans communities’ best interests in mind, and also so that engagement/consultation within trans communities was carried out in a culturally competent and appropriate manner. These requests have been repeatedly rejected, and we have had little engagement with the Review Group since its establishment. As a result, consultation with trans communities has been exceedingly poor, and the Review Group has only managed to reach a very small number of trans people in its engagement processes. 

We also responded to the Review Group objectives, and attended the follow-up Zoom consultations. Following these, several of our service users and community members approached us to express concerns about the ableism and marginalisation they experienced from members of the Review Group in these consultation sessions, concerns which we passed on to the HSCB representative on the Group and which were promptly dismissed. We, further, applied to take part in the Service User Liaison Panel (due to the clear unwillingness to have us involved at the Review Group) and were yet again rejected.

This aforementioned Service User Liaison Panel has been set up behind closed doors, with no transparency as to how service users/organisations are being chosen for and represented in this group, nor any details about the actual role and purpose of the group. 

From these consistent failures, it is clear that the GIS Pathway Review is avoiding accountability and refusing to engage in appropriate codesign practices, and would prefer to conduct this review – as has been the case for the past year and a half – behind closed doors, with as little meaningful collaboration with trans communities as possible. 

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and discuss this issue further. However, we understand that your schedule is quite busy currently, so failing that we would appreciate representation of our and other organisations and individuals within trans communities on the Gender Identity Service Pathway Review Group, as well as concrete action to ensure meaningful engagement with trans people and communities on healthcare affecting us from this point forth. 

Yours faithfully,