10/31/2014 11:27 EDT | Updated 12/31/2014 05:59 EST

B.C.'s transgender surgery program gets reassessment

B.C.'s Minister of Health Terry Lake says medical assessments for transgender people will be fully funded until the end of this fiscal year, and a new expert panel will reassess the province's services.

The announcement comes after aarlier this week Lake said he could do nothing about a budget shortfall that meant there would be no more assessments for transgender people until next April.

Then yesterday Lake announced the funding for the assessments would be extended and a plan to expand services is in the works.

Before being approved for gender affirmation surgery, a person must be assessed by the one doctor in B.C. accredited to do so. 

The wait list is more than a year long, and it was about to become even longer, after Coastal Health announced its budget had been spent and no new assessments would take place until next April.

But yesterday Lake intervened and said assessments will continue till the end of this fiscal year.

"There is an increased demand for these services, so in recognition of the impact it has on people as they're waiting for assessment and surgery, one way or another we'll make sure funding is in place."

Starting next April, the Provincial Health Services Authority will assume responsibility for the co-ordination of transgender services in B.C. and will create an expert advisory panel to look at expanding capacity for transgender health services.

"You know it's part of our changing society that we are responding to here, so I think that having an expert panel helps us to look at best practises in other jurisdictions and make sure we are providing the highest level of service we can to British Columbians," said Lake.

Gender Reassignment Services are publicly funded in British Columbia for patients with gender dysphoria through the Medical Services Plan and since 2008, over 500 procedures have been approved by the ministry.

But transgender organizations say even after assessments, the average wait for surgery is two to four years, and can be as long as a decade.