Election Special

British court ruling may prevent under 16s from accessing puberty blockers

Rachel Badham December 3, 2020

The Tavistock centre

A new ruling from the British high court means trans people under 16 will require legal approval before accessing puberty blockers. The new regulations came about when Kiera Bell, 23, brought action against The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust (which houses the Gender Identity Development Services/GIDS) after taking puberty blockers at age 16, before later detransitioning in her early 20s. According to Reuters, the UK high court ruled children under 16 will need legal approval before accessing puberty blockers, with the reasoning that it is “highly unlikely [young people] were competent to give consent” to undergoing such treatment. An NHS spokesperson said: “The Tavistock have immediately suspended new referrals for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for the under 16s, which in future will only be permitted where a court specifically authorises it.”

Bell expressed her approval of the decision, saying: “I’m delighted at the judgment of the court today, a judgment that will protect vulnerable people. I wish it had been made for me before I embarked on the devastating experiment of puberty blockers”, however many young trans people are fearful for the effects this development will have on their access to gender affirming healthcare. LGBTQ+ organisations such as Stonewall and Mermaids are continuing to examine the implications of the court ruling; so far, it has been confirmed that those under 16 who are already taking puberty blockers will be required to undergo a review of the treatment.

If a person under 16 is on the waiting list for treatment, they will still have to wait to be seen by GIDS, but all new referrals are currently on hold. Young people who have just begun the consultation process at GIDS will not be referred to the endocrinology clinic for puberty blockers unless a ‘best interests’ order is made by the court. Although there is still some confusion as to what the ruling will mean for young trans people, Jolyon Maugham, a lawyer and director of the Good Law Project, which has worked on trans rights cases, said: “The practical effect of the judgment will be that puberty blockers will very rarely be prescribed to those under 16.”

Many have expressed deep disappointment at the court judgement, with Mermaids describing it as a “devastating blow” and a betrayal of young trans people. Trans activist and co-founder of Trans Pride Brighton, Fox Fisher, condemned the decision, saying: Banning hormone blockers will cause irreversible damage to young trans people going through ‘the wrong puberty’ – which will cost the NHS UK so much more in the long run in surgery and support. Or worse. Big mistake. Blood on your hands.”

For young trans people who are concerned about the impact the court ruling will have, Stonewall have shared a selection of organisations which can provide support through this time; it can be found here.

Those in need of support can also contact Mermaids via Twitter or by text.