Kids under 16 who have been prescribed puberty blockers may rely on parental consent to maintain access to the life-changing meds instead of seeking court approval, England’s National Health Service (NHS) has said in new guidance.
The new advice was published on Thursday by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, which operates the UK’s only gender identity development service (GIDS) for children.
Transgender children under 16 previously required a clinician and a High Court application in order to access puberty blockers, which suppress the release of hormones that affect developments such as periods, breast growth and facial hair growth.
But the new NHS guidance means that kids who are already on the drugs will only require parental consent as long as the child, parents and doctors agree that continued prescription is “in the child’s best interests.”
However, the continued supply of puberty blockers will also require the backing of a new independent professional review group that is to be set up as an “interim measure” in response to recent court rulings.
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Reacting to the NHS news, UK transgender children’s charity Mermaids said in a statement it is “concerned” both about the time the review group may take to assess cases, and for children who want the drugs but aren’t supported by their parents.
The NHS’s decision is in response to two UK court rulings, one of which backed parental consent in puberty blocker access and another which said under-16s are unlikely to be able to give informed consent themselves.
The Family Division of the High Court ruled last month that parents can consent to their child being given the drugs, in a case funded by legal campaign group the Good Law Project, which has also funded challenges against the UK government.
This case concerned a transgender 15-year-old girl, known as XY, whose parents were seeking clarification about consenting to their daughter’s treatment in the wake of a previous court ruling.
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That previous ruling, in December, saw three High Court judges say that it is “doubtful” that children of 14 or 15 would be able to understand the risks and consequences of puberty-blocking treatment.
Reacting to the ruling at the time, an NHS spokesperson said it “welcomed the clarity” the ruling would bring.
The Tavistock and Portman Trust, which immediately suspended new puberty blocker referrals in response to the court’s decision, said it was “disappointed” with the ruling and the likely “anxiety” it would bring for patients and their families.
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