UK government bans private puberty blocker prescriptions for trans youth

The UK government has introduced regulations to halt new private prescriptions of puberty blockers for under-18s in one of its final acts before the general election.

No new patients under the age of 18 in England, Wales and Scotland will be given hormones to suppress puberty if they are experiencing gender dysphoria, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced on Wednesday (29 May).

The medicine prevents puberty from starting by blocking the hormones – such as testosterone and oestrogen – that lead to changes in the body. In the case of trans youth, this can delay unwanted physical changes such as menstruation, breast growth, voice changes or facial-hair growth. 

The emergency ban will last from 3 June to 3 September and will apply to prescriptions written by UK private doctors and those registered in the European Economic Area or Switzerland. The medicines in question consist of, or contain, buserelin, gonadorelin, goserelin, leuprorelin acetate, nafarelin, or triptorelin.

Patients who already have prescriptions will continue to be able to access them, the DHSC said, and the medicines will remain available for other uses.

The government’s move comes after the release of the Cass report and a similar decision by NHS England to stop prescribing the medicine to trans youth at its gender identity clinics.

Protestors opposed a ban on puberty blockers early this year. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

In March, NHS England decided that puberty blockers would only be available to young people as part of clinical trials. “Outside of a research setting, puberty-suppressing hormones should not be routinely commissioned for children and adolescents,” a spokesperson said. Sky News reported the government described the move as a “landmark decision” and in the “best interests of the child”. 

However, transgender youth charity Mermaids labelled the decision “deeply disappointing” and a “further restriction of support offered to trans children and young people”.

Wales and Scotland announced pauses to prescribing puberty blockers, in the wake of the report.

The Cass report, an independent review into the provision of healthcare for trans youth in England, was published in April and urged medics to use “extreme caution” when prescribing puberty blockers to children and young people.

The 400-page report into England’s model of care for trans under-18s claimed there was “weak evidence” suggesting that puberty-blocking hormones positively or negatively impact gender dysphoria and branded as “poor quality” historical studies into their effectiveness.

Dr Hilary Cass, who led the review, said: “What I am recommending is an expansion of capacity across the country, grounded in paediatric services and delivered in a consistent way… a much more holistic offer of care that considers the child as a whole person and not just through the lens of their gender identity, and the development of a robust research environment to provide evidence on long-term outcomes and efficacy of different interventions so that future care is informed by robust evidence.”

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