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NHS England confirms children will no longer be prescribed puberty blockers

NHS stops prescribing puberty blockers to children, shifting focus to clinical trials. Government supports decision for evidence-based care.

NHS England has made the decision to no longer prescribe puberty blockers to children at gender identity clinics. The use of puberty blockers, which temporarily pause physical changes associated with puberty, will now only be permitted as part of clinical research trials for children.

This decision has been welcomed by the government, emphasizing the importance of evidence-based care that is in the best interests of the child. The decision follows a public consultation and an independent review of gender identity services for children under 18 conducted by NHS England in 2020.

The review was prompted by a significant increase in referrals to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) run by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. The service, which is closing at the end of March, saw over 5,000 referrals in 2021/22 compared to fewer than 250 a decade ago.

Dr. Hilary Cass, who led the review, highlighted the need for regional options to better support children and raised concerns about the lack of long-term evidence on the effects of puberty blockers. Following the closure of Tavistock, two new NHS services will open in London and Liverpool in early April to provide holistic care to children and young people.

While there are currently fewer than 100 children on puberty blockers, those already receiving treatment will continue at designated hospitals. Puberty blockers can help transgender youth explore their gender identity and potentially reduce the need for future medical interventions. However, concerns have been raised about issues such as consent, mental health risks, and impacts on bone density.

Health Minister Maria Caulfield emphasized the importance of prioritizing children's safety and well-being in making this decision. The consultation on the future of gender identity services received over 4,000 responses, reflecting a polarized debate on the use of puberty blockers.

Transgender youth charity Mermaids expressed disappointment in the decision, stating that it will deeply affect their communities. Despite the pause on prescribing puberty blockers, those currently receiving treatment will not be affected. The announcement comes ahead of former Prime Minister Liz Truss's Health and Equality Acts (Amendment) Bill, which includes a ban on the prescription of body-altering hormones to children questioning their sex.

NHS England aims to conduct a study on the use of puberty blockers by December, with eligibility criteria yet to be determined. The decision to limit the prescription of puberty blockers reflects a complex and evolving landscape of care for transgender youth, balancing the need for evidence-based practices with concerns about long-term impacts and patient well-being.

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