Tavistock Centre Gender Reassignment

The NHS clinic where children as young as 12 are receiving drugs to prepare them for a sex change

  • Transgender children as young as 12 are being given hormone blockers
  • They are being prescribed by doctors at Tavistock Clinic in north London
  • Hormone blockers halt the onset of puberty and sexual characteristics
  • Treatment is generally denied to children under the age of 16

By Sophie Jane Evans

Published: 13:31 GMT, 17 November 2013 | Updated: 14:40 GMT, 17 November 2013

An NHS clinic is treating transgender children as young as 12 with drug therapies to prepare them for a sex change, it has been revealed.

More than 20 youngsters with 'gender dysphoria' are being prescribed hormone blockers by doctors at the Tavistock Clinic in north London.

The treatment halts the onset of puberty - preventing children from developing the sexual characteristics of the gender they were born.

Controversial: The Tavistock Clinic in north London is prescribing hormone blockers to children as young as 12

The clinic started offering the medication in 2011 as part of a study to determine whether transgender children could benefit from starting treatment earlier than in the past, according to The Sunday Times.

It was initially deemed controversial due to the patients' ages - with critics arguing that the youngsters lacked the ability to consent to the therapies.

However, since then, the clinic has received a staggering 142 referrals of children aged 11 to 15 from parents and carers.

Dr Polly Carmichael, director of the Tavistock Clinic's gender identity service, said she plans to continue offering the treatment to youngsters after the study culminates in April.

Fight: Transgender Leo Waddell, 12,  was born as a girl called Lily, right. Last month, he vowed to fight a doctor's decision to ban him from taking hormone blockers, which halt the onset of puberty

'Thirty-five [children] so far have been accepted into the early intervention study, about half of these born as girls and half as boys, of whom 23 are already being treated with hormone blockers,' she told The Sunday Times.

'Another 12 have gone forward but are not yet in treatment, perhaps because they are still too early in puberty.'

Once they have reached 16 years old, children are given two options: To halt the hormone blockers - causing them to stay the same gender - or to take 'cross-sex' hormones, which change their body to the opposite gender.

At the age of 18, the Tavistock Clinic is able to refer them for a sex change operation.

Upset: Speaking on This Morning last month, Leo - pictured with his mother, Hayley, 48 - said he started to cry when he was told he couldn't undergo hormone therapy

The clinic's approach is a sharp contrast to most doctors' surgeries in the UK, where children under 16 years old are generally refused hormone blockers.

However, pro-treatment campaigners argue that, by their 16th birthday, most youngsters have experienced the onset of puberty - making it harder for them to change gender..

Dr Carmichael said it was 'better' for children not to have gone through puberty before 'transitioning'.

But she added: 'You are asking someone aged as young as 11 to make big decisions about their adult life and identity. We have to be very careful to keep options open.'

Beauty Queen: Miss England finalist Jackie Green became the youngest person in the world to undergo transgender surgery

Last month, 12-year-old transgender Leo Waddell vowed to fight a doctor's decision to ban him from taking hormone blockers.

Leo, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, was born as a girl called Lily but has lived as a boy since the age of five.

He plans to take testosterone at the age of 16, before undergoing gender reassignment surgery at the age of 18.

In the meantime, he wants to take hormone blockers to prevent the onset of puberty and the release of female hormones in his body.

However, despite undergoing numerous psychological and hormone tests, his GP has refused to prescribe them because she was unsure of the long-term effects - adding: 'Any clinical decision I make always gives consideration to every aspect of the patient's wellbeing'.

Speaking on This Morning with his mother, Hayley, 48, Leo said: 'I didn't like it, I started to cry when she told me.'

Mrs Waddell added: 'What so many people don't understand is that I feel it's far more dangerous for Leo to not have these hormone blockers.

'The things he has to go though, the emotions and the torment is slowly bringing him down and down.'

Leo is one of a growing number of British children with gender dysphoria, a condition whereby you feel have been physically assigned the wrong gender at birth.

In 2009, aged 16, Jackie Green became the youngest person in the world to undergo transgender surgery - having travelled to America aged 12 to receive hormone blockers.

Last year, as a 19-year-old woman, Jackie made history once again by becoming the first transgender Miss England finalist.

She later claimed she 'would have killed' herself if she hadn't been prescribed the blockers by a doctor in Boston.

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As a child and adolescent service, we are commissioned to see young people until their 18th birthday. Adult services are commissioned to see those who are 18 years of age and above. 

Options for 17 year olds are therefore slightly different from those for people who are either younger or older.

If you are considering referring a 17 year old to a gender identity service, there are broadly speaking two options available:


Referral to an adult service

Some young people prefer to be referred directly to adult services where possible. There are several different adult gender identity clinics in England.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust is the interim provider of the Gender Identity Clinic. The Gender Identity Clinic is the largest and oldest gender clinic in the UK, dating back to 1966. They accept referrals from all over the UK for adults (over 17 years and nine months) with issues related to gender. Visit the Gender Identity Clinic website

As adult services are nationally-funded, patients living in England can be referred to any of the adult gender services across the country.

There are separate adult services in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We are aware that some adult gender services accept referrals for 17 year olds. Their waiting times vary, as do their policies about when they will offer a first appointment. Adult services do not usually meet with the whole family.

We recommend you contact adult services directly to enquire about their current policies and waiting times.

If - following assessment - hormonal intervention is felt to be appropriate, adult services do not routinely require all patients to start with 12 months of hormone blocking treatment. Indeed, adult services have and do commence people on cross-sex hormones without having first taken hormone blockers.


Referral to our child and adolescent service

We differ from adult services in that we often meet and work with the whole family.  Our process of assessment usually involves between three and six meetings over a period of between three and six months, after which we write a report with recommendations.  Recommendations might include further therapeutic support, which would usually be provided through local services.

Sometimes we would recommend a referral to one of our endocrinology clinics for consideration of a physical intervention.  As a child and adolescent service we take a staged approach to physical intervention meaning that young people must currently be on hormone blocking treatment for 12 months in our service before they can be considered for cross-sex hormones.

We would not usually accept a referral for someone who is shortly due to turn 18. If this is the case, we would generally recommend referring to an adult service instead.


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