Puberty Blockers

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 15 April 2024.

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Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance 2:45, 15 April 2024

2. Mr Carroll asked the Minister of Health to outline what advice he sought from health experts in relation to restricting access to puberty blockers. (AQO 265/22-27)

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

Puberty blockers are only available on NHS prescription for those under-18s who were accepted onto the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust's Knowing our Identity endocrine pathway prior to March 2020 and remain on it. In March 2020, following consultation with the clinical ethics committee, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, in liaison with the then Health and Social Care Board, amended the service specification, which meant that new referrals after that date would no longer have access to the endocrine pathway. That was due to challenges in the adult gender identity service, given that there was no readily available appropriate transition pathway for young people at age 18 to allow for the safe continuation of endocrine treatment.

My officials have been working with the gender identity service pathway review group and the gender identity service liaison panel, which includes clinical, managerial and service user representation, to develop the gender identity service. At the liaison panel's next quarterly meeting, which is due to be held in June 2024, its members will have the opportunity to discuss in detail the ban on puberty blockers by NHS England.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

There has been an orchestrated campaign against the trans and non-binary community across these islands. I urge you to not follow that, especially given recent comments at the Health Committee. Minister, what commitment will you give to young trans people that they will be able to get access to puberty blockers and gender reaffirming services without any intervention from you, your Department or your officials?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member for the clarity. As I said in answer to the substantive question, puberty blockers are only available on NHS prescription for those under-18s who were accepted prior to March 2020 onto the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust's Knowing our Identity service and remain on it. That decision was made following consultation with the clinical ethics committee and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, in liaison with the then Health and Social Care Board.

Photo of Diane Dodds Diane Dodds DUP

Minister, last week, the publication of the Cass review's final report caused a significant degree of concern. What action is your Department going to take in light of that report's publication, and can you explain how puberty blockers, which were introduced in the UK merely for research trials, could come to be prescribed for routine clinical use despite not being licensed for such use or there being any meaningful evidence about their safety? How many children in Northern Ireland might those have been prescribed to?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

When it comes to that issue and the Cass review, our principal focus has to be on providing the best healthcare and support for our young people. I echo the comments by Dr Hilary Cass about the toxic and polarised nature of much of the debate on this subject. That is particularly the case, as the Member will know, on social media. That toxicity is not in the best interests of our young people, nor does it help us find the right way forward in healthcare and support. On her specific question, I do not have the numbers with me, but I will write to the Member with an answer and share it with the Assembly.

Photo of Eóin Tennyson Eóin Tennyson Alliance

I am sure that the Minister agrees that our priority in that area has to be ensuring that trans individuals get the appropriate care and that their dignity and human rights are respected at all times. Will the Minister commit to engaging further with the LGBT sector and children's rights organisations before pursuing further change in that area?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member for his point. As I said in my answer, my officials have been working with the gender identity service pathway review group and the gender identity services liaison panel, which includes clinical, managerial and service user representation, to develop the gender identity service. The liaison panel is due to meet in June, when that subject will be discussed.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Presumably the liaison panel advises, and you decide. Given that the Cass report highlighted the irreversible harm from the use of puberty blockers, can you assure the House that there will be no return to their destructive use?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member. I refer him to the answer that I gave to the substantive question, which was that puberty blockers are available on NHS prescription only for under-18s who were accepted for and remain in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust Knowing Our Identity service endocrine pathway prior to March 2020. I have been advised that that is the current stance on that piece of work, which was done following consultation with the clinical ethics committee and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, in liaison with the then Health and Social Care Board.