The B.C. government will soon be providing gender-affirming lower surgeries within the province, saving transgender residents from potentially having to travel across the country for the procedure.

The Ministry of Health announced Friday that the publicly funded reconstructive surgeries will be available within Vancouver Coastal Health beginning next year, a move that will vastly improve access for transgender people all over B.C.

Currently, anyone seeking the complex operation has to travel to Montreal or even the U.S.

"We are proud to be the first province in western Canada to provide these surgeries," Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement. "While B.C. funded these surgeries, they weren't being delivered close to home and support systems, and that is what we are changing now. This is about bringing care closer to home and offering an enhanced, more efficient, cost-effective solution."

Having to fly thousands of kilometres for the surgery poses a number of potential challenges. Patients can risk medical issues by embarking on the long journey home while still in recovery, and face difficulties receiving follow-up treatment if they experience any complications.

But more and more people have been leaving B.C. for the procedures in recent years, according to the government. Currently, about 100 transgender residents travel outside the province for lower surgery annually.

The province also announced it's expanding access to breast augmentation and chest construction operations, with 14 surgeons providing the procedures in Burnaby, Kamloops, Kelowna, Port Moody, Prince George, Vancouver and Victoria.

Previously, the surgeries, which are also publicly funded, were only available to those who could travel to Vancouver or Victoria. Even with the limited access available, the number of the operations performed annually more than tripled between 2014 and 2018.

The province expects 200 of the chest and breast surgeries to be completed in the coming year.

According to the B.C. government, about 46,000 people – or roughly one per cent of the population of the province – identifies as trans.

Earlier this month, they were given the option of displaying an X in the gender field of their driver's licence, identity card, birth certificate and BC Services Card.