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NHS England to set up new independent review group to assess puberty blockers

Emma Powys Maurice April 16, 2021
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Trans kids have been targeted with a wave of Republican-backed laws in the US. (Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/ Getty)

NHS England will establish an independent review body to assess the prescription of puberty blockers to people aged under 16.

The health service will set up the body in response to a High Court ruling in March which said that “loving parents” can consent to puberty blockers on their child’s behalf.

This partially reversed an earlier decision that would have forced families of trans kids to seek a court order before they could be prescribed the treatment.

At the time of the March ruling, the judge that it may be necessary for “additional safeguards” to be built into the decision-making process.

The review group is being established in response to that suggestion as an “interim measure” while the NHS awaits the outcome of a separate review into gender identity services.

“The review group’s role is not to endorse or refuse treatment – it is there to ensure appropriate decision-making processes have been followed, particularly with regard to assessing and supporting consent to treatment,” NHS England said.

The group will be comprised of health and care professionals with expertise in child development, neurodevelopment and mental health, assessing capacity and consent, and safeguarding processes.

Together they will ensure that the Tavistock’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), the only NHS gender clinic for under-18s, has carried out an enhanced clinical review of each patient, that the risks and benefits of the treatment have been fully explored and that there has been a “robust process for providing parental consent and child assent”.

In cases where the review group raises concerns, the Tavistock will need to seek a best interests decision from the court in order to confirm the commencement or continuation of treatment.

For existing patients who are already being prescribed puberty blockers, treatment can continue with parental consent as long as there is full alignment between the child, parent(s), and the GIDS team – who must also have the review group’s approval of the decision-making process.

No treatment will be withdrawn until the outcome of the review group’s view or further consideration by the court, if pursued, is known.

A statement from Tavistock and Portman said it welcomed the update “that parental consent may form a legal basis to prescribe puberty blockers to children under 16 years”.

The trust added: “We will be working with NHS England on the implications of these changes for patients currently in treatment and new referrals, and will issue more information about this as soon as we are able.”

Puberty blockers are an “incredibly safe and reversible” treatment proven to vastly improve mental health outcomes in trans and gender non-conforming children. They have also been safely used for decades on cis children who experience precocious puberty.

Related topics: puberty blockers

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