COVID-19 has been a really exhausting time for all Australians and people across the world. Particularly for those worrying about general health and limited or changed hours for medical services for anything other than directly COVID related medical issues. 

These concerns are compounded within the transgender community. These patients require specialist one on one care required for their hormone replacement treatment, mental health and blood tests. All of which must be monitored regularly to ensure hormone levels are within the desired range. 

These are requirements not just to ensure everything is going okay, not just for the doctor, but for the Australian government. As these prescription only medications are strictly controlled and monitored.

The Star Observer spoke with a number of  members from the transgender community about their experience with medical services during this time. 

Oestrogen which comes in three forms; oral pills, gel sachets and patches to put on the individual’s skin. 

Trans woman Jenny Doll, who relies on the oral pills for her transition, said, “Due to COVID I couldn’t get an appointment with the GP and it was cancelled twice. I started looking for another GP where I can get my hormones. One doctor in Burwood, NSW totally rejected me as soon as I said I am a trans woman. His opinion was to wait for my appointment with my regular specialist. I am on blood pressure medication so I also requested this GP to check my blood pressure and he suggested I can go to a chemist for that.

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“I am so shocked with this GP behaviour during a pandemic. But my main aim was to find my hormones scripts. I had reduced my dosage into half already so I don’t run out completely. Then after two weeks I got hold of my specialist GP and asked for my scripts. She sent me an email and I didn’t know it wouldn’t be acceptable in the chemist. I went to at least Six chemists to get my medication for HRT. It was so shocking that the doctor didn’t tell us that the email copy won’t be accepted. Later I asked for another physical appointment with the same specialist later in mid-May. I was so depressed without my HRT medication.”

Finn who is a trans man said, “I have severe anxiety, and normally having to leave the house for an appointment or something is really a way of helping me deal with it. Since COVID, I haven’t had that, and that has meant I haven’t engaged with my trans-related medical care. The less I leave the house, the less I want to leave the house. This has meant that I am actually late for my testosterone shot, which makes me feel worse, and the cycle continues.

“When I realised my mental health was affecting getting my T-shot, that was really upsetting. I felt worse, which made me want to leave the house less, and so on.”

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Non-binary person Olly Lawrence said, “I only go to LGBTQI specific clinics like Northside. They have been booked out for weeks in advance recently which makes seeing my doctor difficult. I have a current script for Primoteston but as of April it’s again out of stock in pharmacies across the state. To get a new script for Reandron would mean being referred to a new Endocrinologist and having multiple appointments with my GP which aren’t easily available right now. I’ve also had my six-month follow up for top surgery postponed for an indeterminate amount of time and haven’t been able to see my surgeon about revisions.

“It’s really frustrating and makes me feel rather helpless. My biggest concern is menstruation returning if I’m off testosterone for a long period, as that would stir up my dysphoria and mental illnesses.”

Another person from the community, Zoe Anne who is a trans woman, was meant to have voice feminisation surgery in April, which was put off indefinitely, meaning she will not be able to have this surgery. 

“My voice is a massive source of dysphoria for me and I’ve been on the waiting list for this surgery since August 2019.  I cried a lot. The downtime of isolation would have been the perfect recovery time too.”

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From speaking with these members of the community is seems that the biggest toll that this pandemic is having on the trans and non-binary community is the mental health and the lack of access to hormones administration or even access to the hormones in the first place. 

Thorne Harbour Health supports the LGBTQI community to make sure everyone who fits under the acronym are treated with nothing but dignity and to have them participate in-full within society. 

Services that are run by Thorn Harbour Healthcare include; Equinox, PRONTO! and The Centre Clinic. 

Peter Locke from Thorne Harbour Health commented, “Equinox has been able to continue providing nursing support for hormone injections and patients have access to tele health appointments where the doctors provide scripts, pathology requests and referrals as usual. However, there has been considerable concern in the community that these services are no longer available.

“In general there is a shortage of transgender and non-binary affirmative medical services in Victoria, a situation that is being addressed by Thorne Harbour Health’s participation in the Victorian Government funded The Trans and Gender Diverse in Community Health consortia. Thorne Harbour Health has developed an excellent clinician training and support package that is free for any Victorian based GP, nurse, or allied health professional to access. Unfortunately, due to physical distancing restrictions, the Equinox GP observation aspect of this package has been temporarily paused. However, the other training services remain available via video link platforms. We look forward to having GPs visit and observe our practice again when physical distancing restrictions are lifted and it is safe to do so.

“We would like to be able to offer telehealth appointments into the future, however this all depends on ongoing MBS funding. At this time, it is expected that telehealth bulk billing item numbers will end at the end of September. If these benefits aren’t extended beyond this time, we will be unable to offer bulk billed telehealth services.”

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