Irish children with gender dysphoria may still be referred to UK’s Tavistock clinic, HSE says

‘We will continue to refer while Tavistock is still open’, HSE’s national lead for integrated care says

The HSE has said it will continue to refer children with gender dysphoria to the Tavistock Clinic in the UK despite concerns over the safety of levels of care provided there.

Dr Siobhán Ní Bhriain, the HSE’s national lead for integrated care, said the clinic had not been deemed unsafe and would have been closed immediately if had been.

“The Tavistock will keep open for another year or so until there are regional units developed in the UK and increased numbers of people with the skill to deliver care to these children who so badly need it,” she told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland. “We will continue to refer while Tavistock is still open, we will monitor it extremely closely and we have for quite a number of years been exploring other options.”

The Tavistock Clinic assesses people for potential treatment by way of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormone treatments. Under the HSE treatment abroad scheme, the clinic was used to treat Irish children and young people suffering from gender dysphoria, defined by the NHS as a “sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity”.

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Data provided under the Freedom of Information Act shows that between 2011 and last year there were 234 referrals of Irish children and young people to its clinic, an average of 21 a year. However, Tavistock has now been ordered to close by next spring following recommendations from an ongoing review of its operations.

Dr Ní Bhriain said the HSE had not received any complaints from patients or service users about the clinic.

“We don’t have a specialist psychiatric service for children with gender dysphoria, what we do have is community consultant adolescent mental health service teams who are able to do an initial assessment and who would be able to assess many of the problems that these children will have so that service is there,” she said.

“If children present to their general practitioner with gender dysphoria they can be referred to their local Camhs service or they can be referred to primary care psychology and if the Camhs service is concerned they will refer on to Tavistock.”

Sam Blanckensee, chair of the Transgender Equality Network, called for regionally based care to be provided in Ireland.

“Trans people in Ireland already experience really long waiting lists so there is a strong need for additional resources rather than creating a bottleneck within an already over subscribed system, what we would really love to see is regionally based care, but there needs to be some service provided for those young people at the time that they need it.”

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a media monitor and reporter