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Scotland’s under-18s gender clinic pauses puberty blockers

  • By Mary McCool
  • BBC Scotland news

Image source, Getty Images

Scotland’s only gender identity clinic for under 18s has paused prescribing puberty blockers to children.

The Sandyford clinic in Glasgow also said new patients aged 16 or 17 would no longer receive other hormone treatments until they were 18.

It follows a landmark review of gender services for under-18s in England.

Dr Hilary Cass’s review said children had been let down by a lack of research and there was “remarkably weak” evidence on medical interventions.

NHS England confirmed it would stop prescribing puberty blockers in March.

Puberty blockers work by suppressing the release of hormones that cause puberty and are often prescribed to children questioning their gender as a way of stopping physical changes such as breast development or facial hair.

Like other parts of the UK, Scotland has seen a rapid rise in the number of young people questioning their identity or experiencing gender dysphoria.

The only specialist service for under-18s is the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow, where people can self-refer or can be referred through their GP.

As well as puberty blockers, the Sandyford also provided “gender affirming hormones” such as testosterone or oestrogen to 16 and 17-year-olds.

In the NHS in England, fewer than 100 children – who had already started a prescription – are now taking puberty blockers.

In Scotland, the number is likely to be far smaller.

Image caption, Pro-trans activists protested outside the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow last month

Following the position taken by NHS England, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) and NHS Lothian deferred starting new patients on the treatment in mid-March.

The Glasgow health board said patients had now been formally notified, however existing patients currently receiving treatment would not be affected.

Dr Emilia Crighton, NHSGCC’s director of public health said: “The findings informing the Cass review are important, and we have reviewed the impact on our clinical pathways.

“The next step from here is to work with the Scottish government and academic partners to generate evidence that enables us to deliver safe care for our patients.”

Vic Valentine, of Scottish Trans and the Equality Network, said pausing puberty blockers was the wrong decision and said it would “harm trans children and young people”.

A statement said: “This decision has been taken within the context where the reality of trans people’s experiences and lives is questioned almost daily in some of the media and some political circles.

“This makes us worry that the decision has been influenced by that context rather than solely through consideration of the best interests of trans children and young people.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said the decision was “long overdue” and accused the government of leaking the news to the press “before having the decency to update parliament”.

She called for an urgent ministerial statement so MSPs had a chance to ask questions on the matter.

She said: “I’m beyond fed up with this lackadaisical approach to gender care. They are failing children and young people.”

The Scottish government previously said it had closely monitored Dr Cass’s review and had met her on a number of occasions to share information about improvement work in Scotland.

Earlier this week, First Minister Humza Yousaf said the government would not spend an “inordinate” amount of time deciding whether to follow Dr Cass’s recommendations.

He said: “There’s a number of recommendations – all of them will be given consideration.”

However, he added that the prescription of treatments should be one made by clinicians rather than politicians.

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