Scotland: Health board ‘misled young patients’ over puberty drug The Times 28.03.21

The original article is here.

Scotland’s biggest health board has been accused of misleading young transgender patients and their families over the potential effects of puberty- suppressing drugs.

Newly-released documents show that as early as January 2017, officials at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde recognised that the long-term impacts of hormones known as puberty blockers were not known but could affect bone density and stunt growth. Despite this, a leaflet published by the health board until last year said that taking blockers was considered “fully reversible”.

The leaflet was withdrawn in June when a mother complained that it did not fully explain the risks. It followed a decision by NHS England to update guidance in May to reflect concerns over the long-term effects of blockers.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which manages Sandyford, the national gender identity clinic, said such risks were, and always had been, explained in patient consultations. However, the campaign group For Women Scotland said its failure to highlight them in official literature should be “a national scandal”.

“We have been raising concerns about practices and record-keeping at the Sandyford for some time,” said spokeswoman Susan Smith. “Despite evidence of serious side-effects and a dearth of evidence on the long-term impacts of stunting puberty, clinics have maintained that blockers were safe and fully reversible. The Scottish government should call a halt to these experiments now.”

Files released by the government under freedom of information reveal that in March last year, civil servants acting on behalf of the health secretary, Jeane Freeman, asked for evidence of the side-effects and long-term risks of puberty blockers, and if patients were given “specific information”.

In an email exchange, a Glasgow health official admitted that the effect of blockers on bone density was unknown. “Uncertainties also exist regarding the effect of puberty suppression on growth and adult height, the psychosocial problem of delayed puberty and possible effects on brain development,” the official stated, pointing to a January 2017 study that tested the effects of the drugs on animals.

The same official pointed out that discontinuing treatment “will lead to the reactivation of the pituitary-gonadal axis; in that respect, the effects of [puberty blockers] are considered completely reversible”. Civil servants were informed that “there is no minimum age that this intervention would be considered”, and that females enter puberty as young as eight and boys, nine.

Smith said: “The extreme youth of children considered for this pathway, as revealed in these documents, should worry anyone who understands child development.”

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