By Sue Reid,
This could become the biggest medical scandal of the century, argues SUE REID
Sanity is finally beginning to prevail in the world of medical treatment for children who question their gender.
The closure next spring of the NHS’s only gender identity clinic for children is a vital and long overdue step in righting the wrongs of what could perhaps be the biggest medical scandal this century – the routine use of puberty-blocking drugs on children.
These powerful drugs can endanger fertility and open up the possibility of brutal surgery to reassign sex organs. Yet in this country, they have been given to those as young as ten.
Other countries have banned their use in children. Sweden curtailed the use of blockers among under-18s last year, with a leading Stockholm paediatrician saying they ‘chemically castrate’ children, causing problems with mental health.
France has stopped them, too. Its top medical academy blames a social media frenzy for fuelling demand among teenagers, particularly girls, for the drugs from doctors.
Why has Britain taken so long to act? No one knows how many hundreds of children have been harmed in the UK as a result of their use. I first started investigating the Gender Identity Service (GIDS) at London’s Tavistock Clinic four years ago after a tip-off from worried medics who were working there or had done so. What I learned was horrifying.
The closure next spring of the NHS’s only gender identity clinic for children is a vital and long overdue step in righting the wrongs of what could perhaps be the biggest medical scandal this century
I was told by former nurse Susan Evans: ‘Children with gender identity problems expect hormone blockers [drugs to stall puberty] to be handed out quickly.
‘They think these drugs will solve all their concerns: such as how they look, a lack of friends, physical changes and typical teenage angst.’
She warned: ‘I think the risks of blockers are long-term, including fertility loss. There are worries they interfere with the full development of adolescent brains.’ The NHS’s decision to decommission the Tavistock comes after an independent review into the clinic by Dr Hillary Cass said its work was ‘not a safe and viable option’ for youngsters.
Their mental health problems are ‘overshadowed’ in favour of gender identity issues, said the report, amid accusations the clinic rushes to give them blockers.
We had already been warned of troubling matters at the clinic.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr David Bell, who worked at the Tavistock and served as staff governor, wrote a blistering report, saying that GIDS, was ‘not fit for purpose’.
He said ‘children’s needs are being met in a woeful, inadequate manner and some will live on with the damaging consequences’.
There is also Keira Bell, who told her heartbreaking story to the Daily Mail in January 2020.
She explained to me that, when she was 16, she no longer wanted to be a girl and was prescribed puberty blockers after three one-hour GIDS consultations.
She had her breasts removed in an NHS operation three years later – but then regretted her decision to become a man and de-transitioned, although she fears her fertility has been irreparably harmed.
Keira Bell pictured outside the High Court in December 2020 after Tavistock challenged a ruling the court ruling that children under 16 with gender dysphoria can only consent to the use of hormone-blocking treatments if they can understand the ‘immediate and long-term consequences’
Keira bravely appeared in the High Court, begging judges to control doctors giving puberty blockers so readily to children.
The Care Quality Commission health watchdog last year rated the child gender clinic ‘inadequate’, demanding regular updates on ever-rising waiting list numbers (particularly among girls wanting to transition to boys).
Sajid Javid, as health secretary, also sounded alarms. He said a fear among medics of being labelled ‘transphobic’ had stopped proper debate, or research, into young trans people’s medical treatments.
He announced a law change earlier this month, before his resignation, to allow the inspection of confidential NHS records of trans patients, many of them now adult, who received blockers when they were children or teenagers.
The records will be examined in Dr Cass’s ongoing review, allowing the truth to emerge about those who regret taking the blockers, or feel they were rushed into doing so.
The puberty-pausing drugs themselves will also be put under ‘rapid’ scrutiny, with Dr Cass warning there is ‘insufficient’ evidence of their benefits.
That is a polite way of putting it.
In Sweden, a pioneer in child transgender treatments before it recanted, the dangers of these drugs are clear. A teenager called Leo, who received puberty blockers as an 11-year-old at the Karolinska University Hospital’s child gender identity service, has suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of them, along with 12 other children.
Their ailments include liver damage, unexplained weight gains of up to two stone, mental health problems and, in Leo’s case, weakened bones seen in people of 70, and a failure to grow as tall as he should.
Sweden’s health chiefs say the high-profile case of Keira Bell, now in her 20s, influenced their decision to limit blockers.
A little publicised report on puberty-stopping drugs, released by the Tavistock gender clinic two years ago, admitted some child patients had signs of stunted height and thin bone density compared with their peers who had not taken them.
At the time, the report appeared to have been overlooked. For the sake of our children, let us hope this kind of evidence will never be obscured again.
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