Health Secretary has ‘clear intention’ to ban puberty blockers

Victoria Atkins set out her ‘clear intention’ to ban puberty blockers in a House of Commons speech.

Will Durrant
Thursday 23 May 2024 17:50 BST
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins leaving Downing Street, London, after a Cabinet meeting (Yui Mok/PA)
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins leaving Downing Street, London, after a Cabinet meeting (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has told MPs she has a “clear intention” to introduce a “banning order” on puberty blockers.

The Conservative minister set out plans to use a power bestowed on secretaries of state through the Medicines Act 1968, which would stop medical firms from selling, supplying or importing puberty blockers.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he “welcomed” Ms Atkins’ approach to puberty blockers, which suppress the natural production of sex hormones to delay puberty.

Today I want to set out my clear intention to introduce a banning order on puberty blockers, with limited exceptions, under Section 62 of the Medicines Act 1968

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins

Ms Atkins last month pledged to work to close any loopholes which could see online providers prescribe hormones to gender-questioning children following the publication of the long-awaited Cass Review into children’s gender services in the NHS.

The review led by Dr Hilary Cass concluded that children had been let down by a lack of research and evidence on the use of puberty blockers and hormones, in a debate that it described as having become “increasingly toxic”.

Making a statement to the Commons, Ms Atkins said: “Today I want to set out my clear intention to introduce a banning order on puberty blockers, with limited exceptions, under Section 62 of the Medicines Act 1968.

“This is an extraordinary use of that power, but it is the right use of that power because we must protect our children and young people from this risk to their safety.”

Ms Atkins earlier said she had made it a “priority to protect our children who are questioning their identity in ever-increasing numbers”, referring to the Cass Review which she said “laid bare the damaging effect that social media and degrading pornography has had on young people’s sense of self”.

Mr Streeting said: “I also welcome what she’s said about the justifiably cautious and responsible approach she’s taking in relation to puberty blockers in light of the Cass Review.”

In March, NHS England confirmed children will no longer be prescribed puberty blockers at gender identity clinics.

They will only be available to children as part of clinical research trials, which NHS England has previously said it aims to have in place by December.

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

The Health Secretary’s statement in the Commons also covered the infected blood scandal, where she apologised “unreservedly” to victims and promised that the General Election “will in no way affect the process that is all already underway”.

The Infected Blood Inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, published its report on May 20.

It found more than 30,000 NHS patients were needlessly infected with deadly viruses including hepatitis and HIV in a scandal which “could largely have been avoided” and involved a “pervasive” cover-up.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a general election yesterday, which will be held on Thursday, July 4.

Ms Atkins said: “Throughout the election period Government officials and I will continue to study the report to make sure that the lessons of Sir Brian’s inquiry are learned and that these mistakes can never be repeated, and we will work with the NHS Business Services Authority to make sure that everyone who is eligible receives the second interim payment of £210,000 over the summer.”

Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North), a long-time campaigner on the infected blood scandal, said she welcomed Ms Atkins’ commitments but sought commitments on payments for those who have received nothing so far and also on psychological support services in England.

She said: “They are in place in Northern Ireland, in Scotland and in Wales, and since 2020 ministers in the Department of Health have been saying that those services would be made available. That’s four years ago. That’s not acceptable.”

The England Infected Blood Support Scheme (EIBSS) can provide funding towards counselling and talking therapy costs for private treatments, according to the NHS, but there is no dedicated psychology service provided through the EIBSS, unlike similar programmes in the devolved nations.

Ms Atkins replied: “We want to ensure that we give the independent compensation authority, and I underline the word ‘independent’ because I am very sympathetic to the sensitivities of families and victims around the part the Department of Health and others played in their pain, so we want to give Sir Robert (Francis, chair of the Infected Blood Compensation Authority) the chance to set the scheme up as I say very much assisted by the expert panel.

“And on the point of psychological support, I promise her this is a matter I’m discussing with the chief executive of NHS England and have done for some time.

“We’re wanting to recruit the right people to conduct that incredibly sensitive work and it’s going to take us a little bit more time, but I assure her NHS England is acting quickly to bring those services in we hope by the end of the summer.”

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