29 July 2022

Shutting down the Tavistock’s GIDS clinic is long overdue


When someone has the word doctor in front of their name, we tend to trust their diagnosis; we know they’ve studied hard to win that title, they are bright, caring and have a modicum of common sense. Or, at least, they should have. 

But doctors can be as prone to hysteria and delusional group-think as anyone else. Back in the 1990s a theory swept through the mental health system, according to which memories of sexual abuse could be totally forgotten until mentioned as a cause of unhappiness by a therapist. What became known as ‘false memory syndrome’ led to hundreds of miscarriages of justice and the breakup of families before it was roundly debunked.

We are now living through an even bigger scandal. This time the victims are unhappy children who are being told that they are the ‘wrong’ gender. Kids as young as ten have been prescribed puberty blockers after just three or four hours with a therapist. Potentially thousands of young people have been put on drugs which are believed to have irreversible impacts on both the brain and bone density.

Thankfully, the tide does now seem to be turning. After a slew of complaints from whistleblowers, former patients and their families, the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at London’s Tavistock and Portman Trust is set to be shut down. It follows recommendations from Hilary Cass, a former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health who is leading a review of gender identity services. In the place of GIDS, the NHS will offer services around the country which can be peer reviewed, subject to evidence and involve a more multi-disciplinary team. It’s a move that is hugely welcome, but long, long overdue. 

The whistle was first blown some 18 years ago by GIDS nurse Susan Evans, who grew concerned after a troubled 16-year-old boy was put forward for puberty blockers after just four sessions. She saw a service under ‘tremendous pressure’ from trans groups such as Mermaids who believe that anything other than ‘affirming’ a child’s questioning about whether they should change gender is deemed transphobia. There was an internal inquiry but nothing changed; in fact, the service only grew and grew seeing more than 20,000 children. 

Exactly how many children were wrongly prescribed puberty blockers we may never know; as the Keira Bell judicial inquiry into the Tavistock found, records were barely kept. What we do know is that the impact of puberty blockers is not fully understood and the trust, which was handing them out to children like sweets, wasn’t interested in following up their effects.

Other countries, including Sweden and France, have already banned the use of blockers, but clinicians at GIDS who raised concerns risked being labelled ‘transphobic’ and ostracised. Among them was Dr Kirsty Entwistle, who took issue with a colleague claiming a teenage girl needed puberty blockers because she had enjoyed Thomas the Tank Engine when she was little.

And it gets even worse. When the trust’s own safeguarding lead, Sonia Appleby, warned the scandal could be a ‘Jimmy Savile-type situation’ because senior management were turning a blind eye to concerns, she too was ostracised. Staff were told Appleby had an ‘agenda’ and she was side-lined, making it impossible to do her job. With the help of solicitor Elliot Hammer she eventually won £20,000 at an industrial tribunal.

Another whistleblower was Dr David Bell, a distinguished psychiatrist and also a governor of the Tavistock and Portman Trust. He spoke up after 10 clinical leads from GIDS raised concerns. Not only was he ignored, but the Trust was so spiteful that a book he had written the forword to about trans gender issues in children was removed from its library.

In the meantime, not only was the Trust quick to start children on a medical pathway of changing gender, but no one was investigating why demand for the service had leapt by 400% – mainly from girls who wanted to be boys, when previously the majority of GIDS patients were boys who wanted to be girls.

It is little wonder that criminal barrister Simon Myerson predicts that there will be a police investigation into what has happened at the Tavistock. It cannot be seen as anything other than a medical scandal and heads need to roll. 

In the meantime, it is important that the services which will replace GIDS are well funded and properly managed. That’s easier said than done, given the woeful state of NHS mental health provision, including for children. 

It’s taken some sterling journalistic work, Keira Bell’s case and now an intervention from government with the Cass Review for something to be done about the Tavistock. Combined with Allison Bailey’s employment tribunal victory yesterday, it does feel like a watershed moment in the fightback against the extremes of identity ideology. The identitarians aren’t helping themselves either: witness the climbdown this week from Stonewall after their ludicrous claim that children as young as two could be transgender.

There’s no room for complacency though. An extreme, divisive and bullying ideology – one which has little to do with helping trans people live happy, fulfilling lives – is still being vociferously pushed on public institutions. Unlike ‘false memory syndrome’ this goes way beyond one clinic, or even the medical profession – it affects us all.

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Nicole Lampert is a freelance journalist.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.