In announcing the study in 2011, the Trust said treatment with the hormones – known as Gonadatropin-Releasing Hormone agonists or GnRHa – was reversible. Yet a Freedom of Information request to the NHS Health Research Authority showed the study’s own research protocol stated: “It is not clear what the long-term effects of early suppression may be on bone development, height, sex organ development and body shape and their reversibility if treatment is stopped during pubertal development”. In an interview with the Guardian in 2015, Dr Carmichael admitted: “Nothing is completely reversible.”
By acting on the pituitary gland, the drugs prevent the release of chemical signals which stimulate the production of estrogen and testosterone, halting the changes of puberty caused by these sex hormones.
In a four-year period, 61 children were recruited, with puberty blockers administered to 50 aged between 10 and 16. By 2017, 800 patients under the age of 18 had been enrolled on the trial, including 230 under 14, according to the professor’s research published on the website of Transgender Trend, an organisation that campaigns for policies regarding children who identify as transgender to be based on scientific and clinical evidence. According to the BBC, 300 prescriptions were issued last year.
Before 2010, the clinic prescribed blockers to over 16s only. But Dr Biggs claims the clinic’s caution was opposed by Mermaids, a charity that supports children who identify as trans and their families and the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES), whose purpose is to improve the lives of trans and gender non-conforming people.
A spokesman for GIDS said fewer than half of those referred to the service go on to access physical interventions.
“It is important that data is presented in peer-reviewed journals. Analysing and extrapolating from different data sets out of context can be misleading and does not do justice to the complexity of the issues. GIDS is actively contributing to the evidence base to inform the best way to support gender-diverse young people.”
The Trust recently secured £1.3 million to conduct research with the University College London and the Universities of Liverpool and Cambridge into the long-term outcomes for young people who use the service.