The damage done is immeasurable. No one knows how years of ideological dogma, inappropriate treatment and a culpable failure to consider the overall mental welfare of the children treated by the Tavistock Clinic will affect the thousands referred to its Gender Identity Development Service. Yesterday the government thankfully brought the scandal to a swift halt. In the wake of a devastating report in March on the clinic’s reckless prescription of puberty blockers, ministers have shut it down altogether. Treatment of children questioning their gender identity will now be handled instead by established and respected regional children’s hospitals.
Disbanding the Tavistock is not before time. The once pioneering north London centre focusing on the psychiatric care of children has become an institute captured by a pernicious clique of “queer theory” trans activists, unwilling to question the reliance on puberty blockers, analyse the longterm effects of this untested treatment, or tolerate any dissenting opinion among staff. The Tavistock failed to collect data on puberty blockers for those under 16, refused to follow up the effects of its treatments and paid virtually no attention to other common factors such as autism, eating disorders or histories of trauma and abuse. It naively confused sexual orientation with gender identity, accepted at face value all declarations by children that they were born in the wrong body and treated all complex problems through the prism of gender.
There were plenty of warning signs. A number of senior staff objected that the clinic did not follow established protocols for the safe use of life-changing hormone treatment. Unable to voice their doubts, many left. Whistleblowers were denounced as transphobic. And as discussion of trans issues became more polemical and political, the clinic saw an extraordinary rise in the number of referrals from across the country, especially among young girls seemingly distressed about their gender. Last year there were more than 5,000 referrals compared to 250 a decade ago. Parents, warned by trans activists that failure to offer early access to hormone treatment before puberty could lead to their children’s suicide, besieged the clinic, the only one in Britain focusing on the issue.
When at last the NHS decided to investigate, the report by Dr Hilary Cass was appalling. The clinic had failed to keep accurate records of all the children treated with hormones after they grew up. There was no long-term monitoring of the out-comes, no attempt to look at other factors affecting mental wellbeing, and no distinction between clinical experience and the shrill activism of those who insisted that trans rights were above all a matter of social and political acceptance. Science should never be prisoner to ideology, nor should scientists be intimidated into muting doubts about current practice. The Tavistock’s reliance on puberty blockers has been compared to the 20th-century craze for curing mental illness with lobotomies. It is based on little clinical evidence but becomes a universal cure. Children are subject to a myriad of factors affecting their mental health: anorexia, self-harming, isolation, and ruptured relationships. Body dysmorphia should be set in the context of overall pediatric care, as it now will be. Worries about the Tavistock’s obtuse ideology have long been highlighted by writers for The Times. At last the government has listened.
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