Researchers behind ‘controversial’ puberty blockers study slammed by BBC’s Newsnight cleared of any wrongdoing

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Scientists working on a study into the effects of giving puberty blockers to transgender children that was slammed by BBC’s Newsnight have been investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing.

The age at which trans kids can be given puberty blockers was lowered from 16 to around 11 in 2011, after nearly a decade of consultation with international experts. This study is important because it started around the same time, to increase the growing evidence base around this treatment.

Opponents of giving trans teenagers puberty blockers have used Newsnight’s claims about the study to say that it is dangerous and controversial to give trans teens the medication.

Newsnight raised concerns about early data from the study in July 2019, receiving criticism from viewers for using a sociology professor with well-known anti-trans views in a segment about the medical effects of giving puberty blockers to trans teenagers.

The “red flags” that Newsnight highlighted about the study – using data obtained by the anti-trans professor via Freedom of Information requests – suggested that the medication could increase the risk of self-harm for trans kids.

These claims were criticised at the time for failing to acknowledge the risk of self-harm or suicide attempts for trans kids who are not given puberty blockers.

The Newsnight claims were passed on to the NHS’s Health Research Authority – which ensures medical studies are ethical and transparent – triggering a full investigation into the researchers, which has now officially cleared them of any wrongdoing, according to the BBC.

The HRA investigation found that the researchers worked “in accordance with recognised practice for health research” adding that in some areas they were “ahead of normal practice at the time”.

The Tavistock and Portman Trust, which Gids, the gender identity clinic for under 18’s, is part of, welcomed the results of the investigation.

A spokesperson said: “The early intervention study was undertaken after nearly a decade of consultation with international experts, was fully approved by a research ethics committee and has followed good research practice.”

Puberty blockers can temporarily prevent the development of secondary sexual characteristics (like an Adam’s apple or facial hair).

This means that trans teenagers can potentially avoid some gender-affirming surgeries later in life.

Criticism of the puberty blockers study in the days following the Newsnight programme – including repeating the now-disproven claims it made – was published in multiple other UK media outlets, including The Times, The Sun and the Morning Star.

These publications are yet to cover the news that the puberty blockers trial study has been cleared of any wrongdoing.