After a tumultuous time of debate, whistleblowing, and lawsuits, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) will conduct an independent review of its care and services for children and teenagers struggling with gender-identity development. The review—which will seek input from families, patients, and medical professionals—will explore the referral and treatment processes, including the use of controversial puberty-blocking drugs (also known as puberty blockers).
It also will examine the recent exponential increase in young patients. During the past decade, the number of referrals to the NHS Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) rose from fewer than 100 to more than 2,500.
Concerns About Risk and Consent
GIDS is managed by the London-based Tavistock Centre, which has been accused of rushing gender-transition treatments and failing to explain potential risks. Former staff members allege the clinic mismanages medical care, experiments on vulnerable youth without informed consent, and succumbs to pressure from LGBTQ activist groups.
In June, some wording changes were made to the NHS website regarding gender dysphoria. Instead of saying that hormones and puberty blockers are “fully reversible,” the site now acknowledges that little is known about the drugs’ physical and psychological effects.
According to a 2019 report in the British Medical Journal, puberty blockers leave young people in a state of “developmental limbo” and threaten their mental maturity.
Sue Evans, a psychiatric nurse who worked at Tavistock, blew the whistle about some of its practices. She initiated a lawsuit, scheduled to go to trial next month, asserting that the NHS is exposing children to “very significant risks” and that young people “cannot give their informed consent to radical experimental medical treatment.” The suit also claims that pro-trans charities in the UK are “having undue influence on the treatment approach within the GIDS.”
The Gender-Dysphoria Treatment Debate
Now that the NHS is conducting an independent review, plaintiff Keira Bell has put a separate legal case on hold. Bell, who took transitioning hormones and had gender-assignment surgery as a teenager, now says they caused harm. “I was allowed to run with this idea that I had, almost like a fantasy, as a teenager,” she says, “and it has affected me in the long run as an adult.”
Bell, now 23, visited the Tavistock clinic at age 16. After just three appointments, she says, she received a prescription for puberty blockers. “I should have been challenged on the proposals or the claims that I was making for myself,” she says now. “I’m very young. I’ve only just stepped into adulthood, and I have to deal with this kind of burden or radical difference.”
Dr. Hilary Cass, who was appointed to conduct the independent review, says, “It is absolutely right that children and young people, who may be dealing with a complexity of issues around their gender identity, get the best possible support and expertise throughout their care.”
Children’s author J.K. Rowling has faced intense criticism for speaking out about gender-identity treatment, which she calls a “scandal” about to “erupt.” After Rowling addressed the transgender bathroom debate, UK trans-rights organization Mermaids responded by saying that “trans rights do not come at the expense of women’s rights.”