An Oxford University professor has accused the NHS’s only specialised clinic for transgender children of suppressing negative results while undertaking experimental treatment on adolescents.
Dr Michael Biggs, an associate professor at Oxford’s Department of Sociology claims the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) has been giving puberty blocking hormones to children, without robust evidence as to the long-term effects.
It comes after the governor of the clinic based in London with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust resigned last month in protest at its “blinkered” response to doctors who had raised the alarm about “woefully inadequate” care. There is also another centre in Leeds.
Declaring the trial a success, the clinic has continued to treat over a thousand children with the hormones but Dr Biggs’ research suggests that after a year of treatment “a significant increase” was found in patients who had been born female self-reporting to staff that they “deliberately try to hurt or kill myself”.
Parents also reported “a significant increase in behavioural and emotional problems” and a “significant decrease in physical wellbeing” in children born female, he claims. According to his research, there was no positive impact on “the experience of gender dysphoria”, the diagnosis given to those who are described as feeling intensely uncomfortable with their biological sex.
Parents did report their children suffering less “internalising behavioural problems”, however.
Dr Biggs said: “Puberty blockers exacerbated gender dysphoria. Yet the study has been used to justify rolling out this drug regime to several hundred children aged under 16.”
His findings are derived from a 2015 report to the directors of the Trust and an abstract from a presentation to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health in 2015 by Dr Polly Carmichael, the director of GIDS – based on the first 44 children to have been treated.
Full results of the trial remain unpublished.
In announcing the study in 2011, the Trust said treatment with the hormones – known as Gonadatropin-Releasing Hormone agonists or GnRHa – was reversible. Yet a Freedom of Information request to the NHS Health Research Authority showed the study’s own research protocol stated: “It is not clear what the long-term effects of early suppression may be on bone development, height, sex organ development and body shape and their reversibility if treatment is stopped during pubertal development”. In an interview with the Guardian in 2015, Dr Carmichael admitted: “Nothing is completely reversible.”
By acting on the pituitary gland, the drugs prevent the release of chemical signals which stimulate the production of estrogen and testosterone, halting the changes of puberty caused by these sex hormones.
In a four-year period, 61 children were recruited, with puberty blockers administered to 50 aged between 10 and 16. By 2017, 800 patients under the age of 18 had been enrolled on the trial, including 230 under 14, according to the professor’s research published on the website of Transgender Trend, an organisation that campaigns for policies regarding children who identify as transgender to be based on scientific and clinical evidence. According to the BBC, 300 prescriptions were issued last year.
Before 2010, the clinic prescribed blockers to over 16s only. But Dr Biggs claims the clinic’s caution was opposed by Mermaids, a charity that supports children who identify as trans and their families and the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES), whose purpose is to improve the lives of trans and gender non-conforming people.