Felix is 50 years old and lives with his wife, Helen aged 59, and two sons in Hull. For the past three years Felix and Helen have been involved in NHS England’s gender identity workshops. The workshops enable people with lived experience of using gender identity services to work with NHS England commissioners to make changes to current services, so that they better meet patients’ needs.
Felix told us why he started attending the workshops and the difference this form of involvement has made.
Why did you decide to get involved in NHS England’s work?
“I was lucky that I had a fairly charmed transition and a positive experience with NHS gender identity services.
“During my transition I met my wife, who is also transgender, her experience of services was not as positive as mine and her transition had not been as straightforward. Helen was advocating for transgender people in the area and, over recent years, we have worked together to run groups to support people in and around Hull – one for adults and one for young people. When you’re doing this kind of advocacy work you hear about the variation in people’s care and this is something I felt needed to be addressed.
Did you have any experience of working with the NHS?
“I used to be a psychiatric nurse, which I suppose gave me some understanding of how the NHS works. But I didn’t need previous experience to get involved.”
How did you find out that there was an opportunity to get involved?
“A friend told me all about the gender identity workshops and encouraged me to get involved because they thought I would be a good representative and also transgender men were under-represented in the workshops.”
What impact did you want to have on healthcare services?
“I wanted to get involved so that I could be sure that the voices of transgender people in my area were being heard.
“It felt as though the system was slowing down and service provision seemed more uncertain. I wanted the opportunity to voice concerns about this to people who can make changes and improve services.
“I wanted to have an impact on care and the medical pathway to make sure that access to services is fair and equal for everyone. I felt that this was a great way to give something back.”
What have been the challenges of getting involved?
“I was quite nervous to start with because I’d never been involved in this kind of thing before.
“It was also important to stay positive as change doesn’t happen overnight. You can quickly get others to understand what you have been though, but real change takes time. You need to have good communication, and take time to talk so that you understand the processes – some people expect things to happen too quickly.”
Why would you encourage others to get involved in shaping health service?
“It’s a real opportunity to move services forward by working on the development of policy and protocols. You can share your experiences, opinions and concerns so that care can be better for everyone.
“If you’re passionate about the NHS and improving services, like me, I would definitely encourage you to find out about how you could get involved.”
What’s been the best thing about getting involved?
“Becoming an expert by experience has helped to build my confidence and given me a taste of being the voice of patients. I have developed new skills and taken up a role as an expert by experience working alongside the inspectors of services for the Care Quality Commission which is something I had contemplated, watching my wife in this role. Being involved with NHS England gave me the confidence to apply for the post.
“The workshops have been open and honest, NHS staff have been helpful and supportive and overall it’s been a great experience which we both hope to remain involved in.”