There has been a dramatic increase in the number of children seeking medical treatment for gender dysphoria on the NHS, Sky News has learned.
Figures from Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, the only UK clinic to provide medical treatment to transgender children, show a fivefold increase in referrals over the past five years, up from 139 in 2010, to 697 last year.
The number of adults undergoing gender reassignment procedures on the NHS in England has also risen sharply, with a 74% increase in the number of male to female procedures since 2002.
The figures come as a senior doctor admitted that the NHS needed to do more to keep up with demand for the treatment, with potentially life-threatening consequences for some transgender people.
“Certainly not treating people is not a neutral act it will do harm – there are a number of studies that report evidence of suicide and self harm among trans people who are unable to access care,” said Dr John Dean, chair of the National Clinical Reference Group for Gender Identity Services.
“It is an intensely demeaning and frustrating experience to have to live in a social role in a body that is incompatible with your deepest inner sense of self.”
At a youth group for transgender teens in Nottingham, young people described the attempt to access treatment as a race against time to beat the onset of puberty.
Many seek “hormone blockers” – drugs which delay puberty, allowing more time for decisions about a longer term transition.
“I’ve been on (hormone) blockers for 12 to 13 months,” said Alex, 15 who was born a boy but is taking medication that pauses puberty and hopes to fully transition to being female.
“I was (worried) so much before I took my blockers that my voice would break or I’d develop really masculine features – it wasn’t healthy.”
There has been growing acceptance of gender dysphoria as a condition that merits treatment on the NHS, as well as a wider policy of addressing the needs of transgender people.
Today, Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan will answer questions to MP’s about government policy, which in 2011 pledged greater equality for transgender people, including during early years and education.
However, there remains controversy around the risks of medical interventions for children as young as 12 for gender dysphoria.
Whilst studies have shown positive outcomes for transgender people who use puberty suppressing drugs, others have questioned the adequacy of evidence as to what happens over the longer term.
Some medical professionals claim the majority of children who experience gender dysphoria later continue to live in the gender they were assigned at birth.
“We’re setting children on the path of medication for life, of very strong off-label drugs and surgeries which have complications and side effects, and we’re sterilising our children for life,” said Stephanie Davis-Arai, who advises parents and teachers on communicating with children.
But some young people said the cost of not receiving treatment outweighed the cost.
“I’ve known since I can remember anything, like in my early childhood,” said Jenny, 18, who was born a boy, speaking at the transgender youth group in Nottingham.
“It’s just every single day people calling you the wrong name and the wrong gender, every little bit is like a little prick inside of you, and that little pin all adds up to a massive stab wound – it makes you emotionally bleed out.”