More than 1,000 children were given puberty blockers at Tavistock gender clinic

More than 1,000 children were given puberty blockers at Tavistock gender clinic

More than 1,000 children at the NHS's child transgender clinic were handed prescriptions for puberty blockers, a new book has claimed, as former staff compare it to the 'doping of East German athletes'.

The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London will close later this year after being slammed in a report amid accusations it was rushing children onto puberty blocking drugs.

Now former clinicians at the service have revealed how 'incredibly complex' children were handed he life-altering drugs after just one assessment - despite having a multitude of mental health or background issues.

GIDS was formerly the sole provider of gender dysphoria and gender identity services for children and young people across the whole of the UK.

The controversial clinic treated at least 9,000 children for gender dysphoria from when it opened in 1989, but a review led by senior paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass warned it was that 'it has become increasingly clear that a single specialist provider model is not a safe or viable long-term option'.

In a new book, former clinicians at GIDS have spoken of their 'regret' of how the clinic regularly prescribed children under the age of 16 with puberty blockers and cross-hormone treatment, The Times reports.

It came despite concerns there was 'scarce and inconclusive evidence to support clinical decision making'.

Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children, written by BBC journalist Hannah Barnes, will be published later this month, The Times reports.

Former medical staff compare the prescriptions to the doping of athletes representing East Germany through the 1960s and 1970s.

Governors, children and their parents have also contributed to the new book.

Figures show 354 children under the age of 16 agreed to puberty blocker at University College London Hospital Trust and Leeds Children’s Hospital over a nine-year period from 2012 to 2021 after being assessed by therapists and psychologists at its clinic.

From 2009 to 2017, a total of 1,256 children were referred for medical intervention - the 'vast majority' of whom were prescribed the puberty blocker.

In 2009-10, GIDS received 97 children, but this soared to 2,728 by 2019-20.

The significant jump left staff feeling overwhelmed, with some telling of how assessments of young people subsequently began to feel rushed.

Dr Anna Hutchison, senior clinical psychologist, recalled how the service began 'accepting everyone'.

Instead of prescribing puberty lockers to provide children with adequate time to consider whether they wanted to make a full transition, almost all cases resulted in cross-sex hormones, including testosterone and oestrogen, being taken - with irreversible results.

She said: 'It totally exploded the idea that when we were offering the puberty blockers, we were actually offering time to think.

'Because what are the chances of 100 per cent of people, offered time to think, thinking the same thing? If the service was getting this wrong, it was getting it wrong with some of the most vulnerable children and young people.'

Dr Hutchison also said she believes some of the children would not have been identified as transgender now if they had not have been 'put on the medical pathway'.

She went onto describe the clinic's service as 'scandalous in its negligence and scale'.

GIDS launched a study, involving 44 patients aged between 12 and 15, to better understand the long-term impact of puberty blockers in 2011.

But the drugs were introduced across the service in April 2014, before the data from her study had yet been made available.

It came after concerns were first raised in 2005, when one of its nurses warned youngsters were being assessed too quickly and their treatment was influenced by transgender rights groups.

There were further concerns that the drugs may affect the growth of children's brains or stunt their growth and bone strength.

Little is known about the long-term effects of puberty blockers and almost all patients who receive them go on to start treatment with cross-sex hormones, which can also cause irreversible changes such as breast development and deepening of the voice. 

They can also cause infertility.

But the clinic used a 'stage, not age' approach based on where a child was in terms of their development.

Family therapist Anastassis Spiliadis told of how outside groups and parents often influenced decisions to refer children for the drugs.

He worked at the service for four yeas, during which time he decided against prescribing puberty blockers to particular children.

But he said 'both ended up on the blocker' when their families complained.

Dr Spiliadis also said parents were aware that families were aware it was easier to be prescribed drugs by certain clinicians than others.

He recalled how Susie Green, then chief executive of trans charity Mermaids, would step in and request a change in clinician on occasion.

He said: 'I remember thinking and talking to Paul (Jenkins, Tavistock chief) and saying that this is really inappropriate - how come a person who’s the director, or the CEO of a charity, is entitled to request a change of clinicians on behalf of a family?'

Other former staff have accused the clinic of being 'institutionally homophobic' and giving in to pressure applied by parents who would rather their child was transgender than gay.

The book also highlights how the trust was under financial constraints at the time.

GIDS' national contract with the NHS, in which it did not have to compete with another service, was seen as 'gold dust'.

Ms Barnes says: 'Bell argued that knowledge of GIDS’ economic importance had made it difficult for those with legitimate criticisms to raise them.'

Instead, the clinic could not be questioned 'because it was bringing in so much money'.

The confirmed closure of the service for young people at Tavistock later his year has been hailed as a victory by campaigners.

The NHS has confirmed that the clinic will be replaced by these local hubs at existing children's hospitals, which will provide more holistic care with 'strong links to mental health services'.