Trans teens are committing suicide because the NHS is failing to provide appropriate treatment, experts warn.
Mermaids, a group providing support for trans youth and families, hosted a seminar in which doctors and parents spoke about how Britain’s health service is failing in three key ways.
- Failing to keep pace with demand
- Not carrying out adequate risk assessment
- Ensure those in greatest distress were treated first
World trans authority Dr Norman Spack, a pediatric endocrinologist (or hormone doctor for children), warned the dangers of failure to treat trans teenagers. He said almost one in three trans individuals will attempt suicide if they do not receive treatment until after puberty.
A more recent study showed trans individuals who receive adequate treatment during puberty will lead to better mental health.
‘If your neighbor is bleeding, you should not stand idly by,’ Spack said, quoting Jewish philosopher Maimonides, and adding: ‘For trans people, the inevitable conclusion is that puberty is noxious.’
His program, copied in over 60 centers across the US, provides treatment including hormone blockers – ideally at the onset of puberty – and hormones for trans teens according to need and capacity to understand the implications of what was being done.
Bernard Reed, of UK gender identity research group GIRES, and Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids said the present UK system lacks logic and imposes barriers to treatment that are both irrational and possibly unlawful.
Reed said: ‘It is imperative the NHS reduce delays in treatment, which are often the result not only of lack of resource, but of an inflexible application of one-size-fits-all protocols to every patient.
‘They need to improve GP training and service provision: and they must stop punishing patients who fail to conform to the rigid requirements set by existing gender identity services.’
Green revealed how the NHS had treated her transgender daughter and their insistence she ‘first undergo a full male puberty before they were prepared to consider her for any treatment’.
Both Reed and Green rejected the current protocols that state, regardless of the young person’s needs and readiness, required fixed intervals before hormone blockers could be administered. The NHS also requires puberty blockers be in place for a year before gender affirming hormones can be considered. Gender affirming hormones can only be given at around age 16.
Referring to this as ‘cruel and unnecessary’, Green said: ‘Puberty can become a nightmare, both because of how teens perceive it, and because of the way their contemporaries react to them with bullying and abuse.
‘This, combined with a lack of treatment, leads them to drop out of school. However, not attending school becomes, in many instances, a reason for not providing treatment.’
We asked the NHS to respond to allegations of difficulties both in respect of capacity and of over-rigid process.
An NHS spokesperson told Gay Star News: ‘Demand for gender identity services among children and adolescents has risen sharply in recent years as young people feel more able to come forward for support. NHS funding for gender identity services has gone up over the last two years and will continue to do so.
‘We are also working with the providers of gender identity services to increase capacity and reduce waiting times as matter of urgency. One of the constraints is the time it takes to train extra staff for these very specialist services, and we are working with Health Education England and professional bodies to address this situation.’
They declined to answer questions about limitations in the current process, and punitive measures taken towards those who did not fit into existing protocols.
Polly Carmichael, gender identity development service director and consultant clinical psychologist at the Tavistock Centre, commented on the gender identity guidelines for the service.
‘There’s no pre-set outcomes and coming to the service doesn’t mean young people will take one, pre-prescribed pathway,’ she said.
‘Age is not a determining factor for hormone blockers but young people and their families take part in a comprehensive psychological and social assessment.
‘In cases where a young person fulfills the criteria for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and is in the early stages of puberty, a referral to the endocrine clinic will be considered with the young person and their family. This referral would follow a comprehensive psychological and social assessment. ‘