The Tavistock gender identity clinic is facing legal action over claims children were misdiagnosed and rushed into transitioning at a young age.
The clinic, which is being shut down by NHS England, was criticised by an independent review for the quality of care and services provided to patients, who were predominantly young teenagers expressing an interest in gender transitioning.
Staff, patients and parents have raised concerns that young people using the service were put on the pathway to transitioning too early and before they had been properly assessed.
It is alleged children were “rushed into taking life-altering puberty blockers without adequate consideration or proper diagnosis”, with staff under pressure to adopt an “unquestioning affirmative approach”.
Mass legal action is now being pursued by lawyers against the clinic, named the Gender and Identity Development Service (GIDS), which has treated 19,000 children with gender dysphoria since 1989.
Lawyers at Pogust Goodhead have accused the clinic at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust of “failures in their duty of care towards young children and adolescents”.
Head of product liability, Lisa Lunt, said: “While the provision of gender dysphoria treatment for children and young adolescents, where appropriate, is an important service, many have been let down by Tavistock and Portman NHS trust.
“We support the findings of the Cass Review, Interim Report and believe there has been a real level of harm that has been perpetrated towards patients who were rushed into taking life-altering puberty blockers without adequate consideration or proper diagnosis.”
Tom Goodhead, chief executive of Pogust Goodhead, said he expected at “least 1,000 clients will join this action”.
He added: “These children have suffered life-changing and, in some cases, irreversible effects of the treatment they received which has resulted in long-term physical and psychological consequences for them.”
GIDS questioned the scale of the looming legal action and highlighted that around 1,000 patients have been referred to its endocrinology teams, to access hormone suppressants, over the past decade.
Pogust Goodhead said the allegations of negligence are likely to be based on numerous supportive findings from the Cass review, not just the alleged rushed use of puberty blockers.
The allegations of medical negligence are based on the findings of an interim report by Dr Hilary Cass, a former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who is leading a review of the service.
The Cass review was commissioned in September 2020 due to the rise in demand, long waiting times for assessments and “significant external scrutiny” around GIDS’ approach and capacity, the NHS said.
It concluded that the service was struggling to deal with spiralling waiting lists, was not keeping “routine and consistent” data on its patients, and found that health staff felt under pressure to adopt an “unquestioning affirmative approach”.
Following the closure of the Tavistock clinic, new regional centres will be set up to “ensure the holistic needs” of patients are fully met, the NHS has said.
It comes amid a sharp rise in people seeking GIDS’ help over the past decade, jumping from 250 in 2011 to 5,000 referrals in 2021, according to the service’s statistics.
In her review, Dr Cass said having one clinic was not “a safe or viable long-term option”.
New centres, one based in London and the other in the northwest of England, are due to open in spring 2023.
A spokesperson for Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust said: “GIDS has not heard from Pogust Goodhead about this matter, but it would be inappropriate to comment on any current or potential legal proceeding.
“The service is committed to patient safety. It works with every young person on a case-by-case basis, with no expectation of what might be the right pathway for them, and only the minority of young people who are seen in our service access any physical treatments while with us.”
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