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Open letter to the BBC regarding inaccurate and unethical reporting on Bell vs. Tavistock

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This letter originally signed by 15 doctors (including myself) and psychologists was sent to the Director General of the BBC just before Christmas. The letter has been made public although not all original signatories were able to make their names public for fear of reprisal. Since being made public many others have added their names in support of the concerns raised by the letter. 

Following the recent judicial review which raised significant concerns about the treatment of children with gender dysphoria, this article was published by the BBC ‘Puberty blockers: Parents’ warning as ruling challenged’. Our letter raises several concerns regarding inaccuracies this article which are particularly concerning bearing in mind the trust many people place in the accuracy of the information published by the BBC. In addition, the article is deliberately inflammatory and likely to cause further distress to families. The BBC should have a duty of care to the public to provide accurate and compassionate reporting on any topic, especially one as delicate as this.  

 

Dear BBC complaints and editorial standards,

We are writing to complain about the article titled ‘Puberty blockers: Parents’ warning as ruling appealed by Ben Hunte that was published on 22nd December 2020.

The article is inflammatory, one-sided, and the conjecture regarding suicide risk could potentially lead to increased suicide risk in the patient population that was described in this article. Therefore, we urge you to consider re-writing it or taking it down as soon as possible.

The experts quoted in this article operate in this field at the fringes of the health system; not only have they sustained many complaints and investigations against them, the GP who set up GenderGP has been suspended by the GMC.

There are a number of factual inaccuracies in the article:

1.’The NHS gender identity service is appealing against a High Court ruling.’

No – the Tavistock have sought permission to appeal, this has not yet been granted.

2. ‘The NHS service says the move harms young people with gender dysphoria.’

Where did this statement come from? The Tavistock have said it is ‘likely to cause anxiety’, but anxiety is not the same as harm.

3. ‘Sex assigned at birth.’

This does not happen; sex is observed at birth. Only in a very small minority of intersex conditions is a person’s sex ambiguous.

4. ‘Accessing puberty blockers is currently one of the first steps in treatment for young people wishing to transition.’ 

No. Puberty blockers should be one of the last steps. Young people who are questioning their gender are entitled to a full psycho-social assessment before the prescription of puberty blockers is considered. This process, if done properly, could take from 6 months to a year. If co-morbid conditions need assessing and treating, this stage could take considerably longer.

5. ‘A clinician who currently works within the NHS GIDS, told the BBC her patients are now being left alone to deal with distress.’

No – GIDS have provided extra support for their patients, and CAMHS services throughout the UK are also able to offer support for young people who have mental health concerns.

On four occasions in the article, it surmises that since the Judicial Review ruling, transgender teens are potentially now at increased risk of suicide. This is not only conjecture but also could inflate the risk of suicide in a group of very vulnerable young people. The young people who attend GIDS frequently have co-morbid conditions that affect their mood and suicidality. Suicidal ideation is not confined to their gender dysphoria. Complex psycho-social difficulties, including sexual trauma, autism, bullying, homosexual puberty, depression and anxiety are significant factors that could affect their mental health profile and suicide risk.

The Judicial Review has recognised that this is a very complex area and that there is a serious lack of research and understanding. Most young people who are prescribed puberty blockers go on to take cross-sex hormones which are life-changing and irreversible treatments. Puberty blockers are no longer seen as reversible, and risks to brain and bone development have now been published.  These facts have been omitted from the article.

There are many people from all sections of our society, including clinicians, parents of trans-identified adolescents, lesbian and gay organisations and detransitioners, who have welcomed the judgement and the focus it has drawn to the lack of robust research and understanding in this area.

Given the number of areas of contention, as well as the factual inaccuracies and the risks associated with conjecture around suicide risk, we would ask that you give this your urgent attention.

Kind regards,

Dr Julie Maxwell
Dr David Pilgrim
Dr Maja Bowen
Dr Annette Neary
Dr Az Hakeem
Dr Tessa Katz
Dr George Halasz
Dr Lucy Griffin
Dr Damian Clifford
Anastassis Spiliadis
Dr Katie Clyde
Dr Angela Dixon
Stella O’Malley
Dr Laetitia Pichevin
Robert Withers
Dr Ellen Wright
Jennifer Bilek
Prof David Curtis MD PhD FRCPsych
Dr Lesley Semmens
Jo Bartosch
Sibyl Ruth
Dr Debbie Hayton, teacher
Dr Tristan W Graham
Ruth Conlock, retired social worker
Margaret Ann Pearson
Jessica Evans
Professor Emerita Debbie Epstein
Graham Linehan
Jacky Grainger, psychotherapist
John AP Moir
William Ross
OBJECT! Feminist Campaign Group
Dr Trevor Stammers, associate professor of medical ethics
Dr Pamela Yerassimou
Dr John Higgon, Cons. Clin. Neuropsychologist
Aaron Broughton-Janes
Dr Richard Gascoigne (GP) MBBS MRCGP DRCOG
Dr Angela Thompson
Andy Hill

And others who were unable to make their names public owing to the hostile nature of the debate in this area. You can read some of their testimonies below:

Ms M, Clinical Psychologist and former Primary School TA said:
‘I decline to add my whole name, as it is very recognisable and there are issues of my recent experience of resigning from my job in protest at being asked to collude in the social transitioning of a very young child. I am concerned about the ‘affirmation only’ approach adopted by schools, teaching unions, counselling organisations, the Tavistock and the BBC (and reflected in its CBBC and online output, and its teaching materials for schools), at the behest of lobby groups.’

To date, there has been no formal response from the BBC, although on 23 December the article was updated to offer a correction that the Tavistock was seeking permission to appeal rather than mounting an appeal, adding a paragraph which notes that the founder of GenderGP has been suspended by the GMC for running an unlicensed, private transgender clinic, and included links to the BBC Action Line.

 

Julie Maxwell is a part-time Community Paediatrician who also works for Lovewise one day a week. She is married with three teenage children and is also involved with youth work at her local church.

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