Concern over retirement of Hong Kong sex-change surgeon

Patients, doctors worry no one is qualified to perform sex reassignment operations in public hospitals when specialist steps down in 2015

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 April, 2013, 6:02am

The only doctor who can carry out sex-change operations in Hong Kong public hospitals is due to retire in two years, triggering concern that patients who want life-altering surgery may be left in limbo.

The transgender community and medical professionals are perturbed by the lack of a qualified successor to Dr Albert Yuen, who has 26 years of experience in helping transsexuals change their gender.

"Some patients are still in the assessment stage and they don't know how long that will take," said Joanne Leung Wing-yan, 50, founder of the Transgender Resource Centre. Leung, who was born a man, underwent two operations with Yuen in 2009 to become a woman.

She said some people seeking a sex change might not be able to complete the full set of procedures by the time Yuen retired, and no one as capable could fill his position.

Yuen is the chief of service at the surgery department in Ruttonjee Hospital, Wan Chai, and is the only specialist performing sex reassignment surgery at the public hospitals.

Since 1987, he has operated on 70 patients with gender identity disorder - that is, a person who does not accept the gender they were born with. Each patient can have up to three operations.

His upcoming retirement in 2015 is also worrying surgeons and health professionals from the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin. The group has called on the Hospital Authority to set up a multidisciplinary transgender clinic before he leaves.

Dr Andrew Burd, chief of Chinese University's division of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery, said health authorities should adopt the international standards of care as detailed by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

For years, Burd has been carrying out non-genital operations for transgender patients, such as breast implants or removal, but he is also retiring soon. "The main concern is that the Hospital Authority must recognise that Dr Yuen is retiring and plan for that," he said.

Professor Sam Winter, who specialises in transgender and sexuality studies at the University of Hong Kong, said Yuen's retirement was a chance to establish a multidisciplinary centre for transgender people covering psychiatric, psychological, surgical, social and legal issues.

"We do need to prepare for some sort of succession and take advantage of people who are interested in getting into this field," Winter said.

An authority spokesman said medical services and care in public hospitals were provided under a "team approach". Demand for counselling on sex re-assignment was stable, he said, and there were four people having sex-change operations this year, with five others on a waiting list.