NHS to restrict puberty blocker prescriptions for children struggling with their gender identity

A trans activist holds up a sign reading "trans rights are human rights."

NHS England has said it is rescinding routine puberty blocker prescriptions after arguing that more evidence is needed about potential benefits and harms.

On Friday (9 June), the National Health Service released a report stating that it would only allow under-18s to receive puberty blockers in exceptional circumstances or under a study looking into their effects.

“Outside of a research setting, puberty suppressing hormones should not be routinely commissioned for children and adolescents,” a statement read.

Puberty blockers are sometimes administered to trans under-18s as a way to pause puberty development to help combat gender dysphoria.

Under the new rules, which the NHS described as an “interim policy”, the medication would only be accessible after further research outlines the impact they have on transgender adolescents.

The NHS website describes the effects of puberty blockers as “physically reversible”, but notes that “it is not known what the psychological effects may be.”

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The website also claims that many cases of “gender variant behaviour” disappear after children hit puberty, despite a UK survey published in April finding that just 0.47 per cent of gender identity clinic patients feeling regret after transitioning.

A picture of the NHS Tavistock Centre sign.
The new policy comes amid changes to trans youth treatment in the NHS. (Getty)

The NHS announced in 2022 that it would close the Tavistock Centre’s Gender and Identity Development Service (GIDS) in favour of four regional centres to help minimise growing waiting times, following recommendations made in an interim report by Dr Hilary Cass.

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Plans to close the UK’s only service for trans youth were delayed to March 2024 after the NHS said the “complexity” of the project required “revisions to the timetable”.

According to a programme report, the southern hubs are expected to open in autumn 2023, while the northern hub will schedule early stages of care for April 2024.

LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall said that, while it welcomed the publication of revised interim service specifications for trans youth, it criticised the policy surrounding puberty blockers.

“This cannot be right. Treatment should be based on clinical need, and coerced participation in research is unethical,” a statement released by Stonewall on Friday read.

The charity also criticised NHS England for its lack of clarity surrounding equality of care for children with “co-occurring conditions” as well as its lack of targets for waiting times.

“Trans and gender questioning children and young people in the UK deserve the best possible standard of care,” the statement continued.

“They deserve to get that care from well qualified, effective and compassionate professionals. And they deserve to get that care in a timely manner.”

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