UK U-Turns on Child ‘Gender-Affirming Care’

The National Health Service of the United Kingdom (NHS), announced on Tuesday a major shift in its treatment approach for children with gender dysphoria. The agency will limit prescribing puberty-blockers to children.

This policy change was prompted by concerns about the lack of evidence that “gender-affirming care” is safe and effective for children. This decision is a turning point in the ongoing debate about how to treat children with gender confusion.

The National Health Service of England has banned the use of puberty-blocking drugs for children who are seeking treatment for gender dysphoria. They cited limited research.

Puberty blockers, or gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs (GnRHa), are a class of drugs that suppress sex hormones in adolescents by continually stimulating the pituitary gland. Children will only have access to it in certain circumstances, like clinical trials.

The NHS’s website said, “Puberty blockers (gonadotrophin-releasing hormone analogs) are not available to children and young people for gender incongruence or gender dysphoria because there is not enough evidence of safety and clinical effectiveness.”

NHS England previously ordered that the London-based Tavistock and Portman Trust gender identity clinic close its doors due to safety concerns.

This shift is a result of various studies in European countries that show “gender-affirming care” does not benefit children with gender dysphoria, but can often cause more harm to their mental health. In 2020, the NHS began a review and decided to treat all children referred for treatment at two new clinics instead of more medical facilities.

A recent report highlights that some European countries such as Finland and Norway have increased their caution. This is in contrast to the United States, which embraced gender-affirming health care long before.

The NHS announced in January that they would take this step, while also taking steps to monitor closely the use of these drugs on minors.

NHS England has also announced that a new oversight board will be established to examine the effects of puberty-blocking drugs.

NHS England established a national Children and Young People’s Gender Dysphoria Research Oversight Board which has approved the development of a study on the impact of hormones that suppress puberty (‘puberty blocks’) in the early onset of gender dysphoria among children and young adults. The consultation report contains more information about the Board and study.

The report continues:

The Service will use a multi-disciplinary, holistic approach to assess and respond to the individual’s needs, taking into account the variety of co-presentations and complexities that are associated with gender identity development. A multidisciplinary integrated team (MDT), which includes the child, young person, and family, will determine the most appropriate clinical path in the child’s or young person’s best interest.

Maria Caulfield praised the move. She noted that “ending the routine description of Puberty Blockers will help to ensure that care is based upon evidence, expert clinical opinions, and is in the best interest of the child.”

The United Kingdom’s decision to move away from gender-affirming treatment is a major step. It could be a sign of similar actions from other countries that have championed this type of treatment for children. In the coming years, people will need to rethink their understanding of gender dysphoria and how they approach it.