– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th April 2022.
To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will investigate the reported increasing number of children being referred to the gender specialist clinic in Glasgow, in light of reports of a similar inquiry planned by the United Kingdom Government. (S6F-01022)
We are aware that referrals to young people’s gender identity services have increased in Scotland, as they have throughout the United Kingdom. The recent interim report of the Cass review of the services in the national health service in England highlighted the importance of robust data collection and the impact of long waiting times.
In Scotland, we have already recognised the need to improve services, including those for young people. That is why we plan to provide £9 million over three years to support improvement in service delivery, data collection, research and support. We do not look to replicate the work of the Cass review, but, as we have previously said, we will carefully consider its findings in the context of NHS Scotland’s services.
According to recent reports, 263 patients under the age of 18 are being treated at the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow, and almost 1,000, including 86 pre-pubescent children, are on the waiting list for their first appointment. At least 98 per cent of children who consent to take puberty blockers go on to have sex hormone treatment that can cause irreversible changes to their bodies. Those figures are alarming.
We must balance the need to help those who are definitely suffering from gender dysphoria with the need to protect vulnerable young people who are unsure of their identity and risk embarking on gender hormone treatment prematurely.
Will the First Minister commit to a similar inquiry to that which has been announced by the UK Government, to ensure that our children are safeguarded?
I think that safeguarding is important, but I think that it is also important that we understand and apply principles of safeguarding properly.
I hope that everyone recognises, as the Scottish Government does, that it is important and right that trans people or anyone who is questioning their gender identity should have access to the right support at the right time for them. One of the biggest issues in this area is that of the waiting times for access to NHS gender identity services, for adults as well as for young people. That is why we are making the investments that I referenced in my original answer.
It is also important to recognise that, in Scotland—as a matter of law under the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991, which predates the life of this Parliament—any person under 16 can consent to a medical procedure or treatment when the qualified medical practitioner attending them considers that they are
“capable of understanding the nature and possible consequences of the procedure or treatment.”
Rightly, any decision on the type of treatment to prescribe is for the clinician to make, in consultation with the patient, following an individual assessment.
On the issue of puberty blockers, it is also important to narrate that the Sandyford young people’s services reported that, during the 11 years from 2011 to 2021, fewer than 100 young people in total—93—were referred for an appointment with a hormone specialist. That is an average of eight per year. The number of young people who were prescribed hormones was even smaller than that.
We must take these issues seriously, but we owe it to everybody also to treat these issues incredibly sensitively and, in doing so, to have at the heart of it the rights of all young people to get the advice that they need at the time that is right for them.