England bans puberty blockers, while it’s still being used in South Africa to treat precocious puberty

NHS England to stop prescribing puberty blockers. Picture: Pixabay

NHS England to stop prescribing puberty blockers. Picture: Pixabay

Published Mar 13, 2024


Young people in England will no longer be prescribed puberty blockers by gender identity clinics, officials said on Tuesday. In South Africa, the treatment will still be allowed.

The banning of the medication which pauses the physical changes of puberty such as breast development or facial hair - will affect anyone under the age of 18 being treated by the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom.

In South Africa puberty blockers are commonly used to delay the onset of puberty for children who suffer from precocious puberty.

“Puberty blockers are very topical at the moment. I don’t think that the general public realises that there are medical indications for puberty blockers.

“Most people assume it’s for gender dysphoria,” said the Parow-based paediatric endocrinologist Dr Michele Grantham.

The ban in the UK follows a spike in referrals to over 5,000 in 2021-2022 from just under 250 a decade earlier.

The UK government welcomed the NHS's decision.

"Ending the routine prescription of puberty blockers will help ensure that care is based on evidence, expert clinical opinion and is in the best interests of the child," said junior health minister Maria Caulfield.

The decision follows a public consultation on the issue.

An independent review commissioned by the NHS in England in 2020 has also looked at gender identity services for children under 18.

An interim report published in February 2022 by review lead Hilary Cass pointed to a lack of long-term evidence on the outcomes of children and young people prescribed puberty blocking medication by the Gids clinic.

Gids, the Gender Identity Development Service, which is due to close at the end of March, had not collected routine and consistent data "which means it is not possible to accurately track the outcomes and pathways that children and young people take through the service", Cass said.

The NHS has said all children being referred for treatment will from April instead attend two new clinics based at the renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and Alder Hey Children's Hospital in northwestern Liverpool.

It has said those being treated at the clinics will be supported by clinical experts in neurodiversity, paediatrics and mental health, "resulting in a holistic approach to care".