Investigating medical malfeascance

The General Medical Council is investigating London-based gender-change specialist Dr. Richard Curtis after three complaints have surfaced.

One patient complained about regretting undergoing treatment after taking hormones and having a double mastectomy. A second accusation is that Dr. Curtis prescribed drugs to patients under the age of 18 without the requisite specialist knowledge.

Dr Curtis is also accused of failing to follow acceptable levels of care and breached conditions placed on his practice by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), the GMC’s arm’s-length disciplinary body.

That is, Dr. Curtis is accused of giving a patient hormone treatment on the first visit and referring patients for surgery prior to completion of a one year Real Life Test (as specified by the Benjamin Standards, candidates are supposed to live in the role of the target gender for at least one year prior to any irreversible surgery). One patient allegedly underwent surgery 12 months after the first appointment.

Dr. Curtis is himself transsexual. The story of his transformational journey can be found at the Daily Mail.

Neither Dr. Curtis nor the Medical Defence Union, which is representing him, have chosen to comment. Supporters have established a Facebook account, Dr Curtis is Cool.

Commentary is flooding in from the trans community.

Lib Dem councillor Sarah Brown notes that Dr. Curtis took over the practice of Russell Reid which started in 2005. In 2007 Dr Reid faced a General Medical Council fitness to practice hearing…amid media reports of misdiagnosis, patient regret, and inappropriate prescribing.

It’s entirely proper for the GMC to investigate allegations of misconduct, and for the press to report on it, but it’s difficult for trans people not to notice how terribly one-sided it all seems to be. The doctors who seem to end up in front of the GMC seem to be those ones who are generally well regarded by trans people, and who have a reputation for helping us when nobody else will.

Press reports concentrate on regrets about procedures which have satisfaction levels beyond the dreams of most other fields of medicine, where much larger regret rates are regarded as par for the course. They rigidly stick to a narrative about a dangerous procedure which gullible people are tricked into by reckless doctors and end up bitterly regretting.

The reality experienced by trans people ourselves is not recognisable from the press reports. In reality large numbers of us are used to being ignored, abused and ridiculed by doctors when we seek treatment. We are denied referrals, denied funding, denied prescriptions and humiliated by a medical establishment which many experience as institutionally transphobic.

--Sarah Brown

Brown went on Twitter and reported

I had a misdiagnosis which led to surgery I regret, and which has caused long term problems.

Here press press press! I, a trans person, had surgery due to misdiagnosis and I regret it. Come and get it, you know you want to.

The scarring will never fade. My mutilated appendage will never be fully functional again. It’s all true. Nice and juicy! Come and get it!

I was offered surgery after only two appointments with the specialist.

--Sarah Brown

Brown was referring to surgery she had on her right hand in 2011. But even though Brown may eventually lose two fingers because of the misdiagnosis and subsequent surgery, there will be no GMC fitness hearing, because "these things happen".

Next thing you know, other transpeople started sharing their stories about mistreatment and prejudice at the hands of the medical community. Brown created the hashtag #TransDocFail and within a day their were over 2000 reports. New reports are still coming in.

Then transgender advocate Jane Fae also publshed, changing the focus of the story Dr. Curtis to the mistreatment of transgender patients by the medical establishment.

The real trans scandal is not the failings of one doctor but cruelty by many.

--Jane Fae

Has your doctor ever laughed in your face during an appointment? Denied that your condition exists? Or simply told you that you're too ugly to merit treatment?

Outrageous? Yes, but also, pretty much par for the course if you happen to be trans. You must expect a world of abuse and humiliation to attend even the simplest of interactions with the medical profession, whether trans-related or not. As for making a complaint, few will risk it: most are cowed into silence by the tacit threat that rocking the boat could lead to a termination of their desperately needed treatment.

Of course, there's little new to this. Wherever there is power imbalance between patients and professionals who control access to resource, there is a risk of an unhealthy relationship developing. From benign paternalism to outright bullying and belittlement, the pattern is repeated time and time again – with women, disabled people and those with mental illness frequently on the receiving end.

--Jane Fae

Fae notes that Curtis offers private treatment, so his services are only available to those who can afford him. He also cannot provide the full range of support available through NHS. He may be the only alternative to the NHS pathway for British transsexual people. The NHS is perceived by the transpeople as "slow, controlling, and unsympathetic."

And with new rules about to be implemented, there are legitimate fears that the "entirety of trans provision is about to be forced into a one-size-fits-all straitjacket", which makes a mockery of patient choice.

Trans anger focused on two aspects of the story: the fact that Curtis, an individual who for all his failings is widely seen as something of a hero of the community, should be coming under attack by the medical establishment; and the fact that, with so much medical abuse of trans folk going on, the news agenda should light yet again on an angle that is positively damaging.


LGBT activist Zoe O'Connell assembled a selection of tweets from #TransDocFail, Here are a few, as selected by Fae:


Point blank refusal to refer to me by my proper name, something the non-GIC psychs did without a fuss.#TransDocFail
9 Jan 13

Cheryl Morgan

GP refused to attest that I’d had surgery so I could get a GRC. I had all my hospital notes, and, you know, a vagina…#TransDocFail
8 Jan 13


NHS Psych told me I wanted to transition to male cos I was too ugly to live as a woman. Also told me I'd never pass as male #TransDocFail
8 Jan 13

Jules LoVecchio

RT was turned away at reception of gyno who shouted about "it" and "do they have a vagina" - needed external granuloma removed #transdocfail
8 Jan 13

Emma Brownbill

3 years after explaining how dangerous (and unlawful) it is, my GP still prints HRT prescriptions for "Mr Emma Brownbill"~ #TransDocFail




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I know some will wonder...

Robyn's picture

...what the interest in health care in Great Britain might be, but it should be known that the care in GB is better than most of what is available here in the US.

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