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Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic: Will They Face Legal Action?
17 August 2022
Stephen Winn, Clinical Negligence Solicitor at TRUE, examines the report that has led to the closure of Tavistock GIC.
Recent press has reported that the controversial Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) based in north London could face mass legal action from thousands of families of children who claim they were rushed into decisions about life altering treatment to delay the onset of adolescence. The scandal could even lead to a criminal investigation.
Tavistock, the only gender identity clinic in the UK opened in 1989. It is said to have worked with around 9,000 children aged 17 and under, some presenting with gender dysmorphia who were treated with hormone therapy, also known as puberty blockers. This helped delay the physical changes to the child’s body during puberty and adolescence, buying time for the mental process of the child identifying their gender to occur.
Now the NHS has ordered Tavistock to be shut down in the wake of a damning report that found teenagers were suffering because they were being forced to wait for treatment. The expert carrying out the review also warned of potentially serious side-effects of the puberty-blocking drugs. It was felt there was no way of knowing if the medication was disrupting the process of brain maturing and impacting on the ability to exercise judgement. This then raised the issue of informed consent, or lack of it, when making decisions about the treatment.
There therefore appears to be two potential areas of claim against Tavistock. Firstly, proving that there was damage caused by the medication itself, which was said to be fully reversible, but that there was a lack of evidence to suggest that this was correct. The drugs prescribed to children deemed as safe and reversible appears not to have been subject to clinical trials. The second area being the lack of informed consent (where patients were not actually understanding the true risks of the treatment).
It has long been established that children under the age of 16 can consent to their own medical treatment if they are believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what is involved in their treatment (termed Gillick Competence). Not knowing the full risks of the treatment you are receiving, especially when the treatment has not been fully tested, throws open any informed consent argument.
A high-profile court case was previously brought against Tavistock by Keira Bell, who transitioned after being prescribed puberty blockers but later regretted it. Judges initially ruled that under 16s could not consent to the treatment, but the ruling was overturned on appeal. In the USA there are already class action claims being taken by parents of children prescribed puberty blockers.
John McQuater, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), said there is a potential for claims but only in specific circumstances; ‘A patient can only claim redress if he, or she, has been injured. The law does not require clinicians to provide exemplary standards of care, it only requires healthcare professionals to exercise reasonable standards of care and skill’. He then continues to say; ‘The decision about what level of care is reasonable is made by fellow clinicians and, where the standard has fallen below that benchmark, that patient has every right to full redress to help put things right.’
This is a controversial and developing area of medical negligence, but it is essential that any medical treatment has the correct research and regulation in place to ensure it is safe and adheres to the strict standards expected in the circumstances. Tavistock was therefore not up to standard and potentially placed patients at risk.
What can we do to help you?
If you have suffered negligent medical treatment at Tavistock or at any other clinic, speak to TRUE today on 0344 854 7000. We have a team of highly experienced, compassionate specialists who can investigate a claim on your behalf.
For information on making a claim on behalf of your child, visit our dedicated advice page.