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Attempt to cover up "explosion" of trans youth suicides on NHS waiting lists
Explainer Transgender

Attempt to cover up "explosion" of trans youth suicides on NHS waiting lists

Jamie Wareham
Jamie Wareham
TL;DR: NHS England faces accusations of an institutional attempt to cover up a rising number of deaths among transgender youth waiting for its care, in order to protect its reputation and because "it is politically inconvenient".

Whistleblowers have shared evidence that dozens of transgender youth and adults have died, many from suicide, while waiting for support from NHS England's gender identity clinics.

They also allege there was a concerted effort to suppress this information reaching the public domain, with freedom of inquest requests leaving out this information because of the "reputational damage" they could create.

The accusations were published in a lengthy X thread by Good Law Project KC Jolyon Maugham. Speaking to QueerAF, he said this "terrifying" story shows an explosion in suicides of young people and "looks very much like an attempt to cover it up because it is politically inconvenient" - X thread

The investigation looks at data, public information and freedom of information requests alongside whistleblower testimony on what happened after the Tavistock Vs Bell case.

In the wake of the case, the UK’s only dedicated gender identity development service (GIDS) clinic for children and young people was stopped from accepting any new referrals. It also froze access to puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for under-16s - openDemocracy

However, when an appeals court overturned the decision, that response was not changed. Meanwhile, whistleblowers say, evidence about a growing number of suicides was suppressed.

What did the investigation into an NHS cover up of trans youth suicide find?

Two whistleblowers who worked at the Tavistock and shared documents and testimony with the Good Law Project said data about Trans+ youth suicides was increasingly obfuscated over a number of official releases and meetings to make the issue become more and more difficult to track. They say that this and in other ways this was part of an attempt to actively suppress the information.

In the first few months, a handful of transgender youth suicides were presented and recorded in quarterly meetings. But over a number of years, as reports of dozens of deaths rolled in, meetings and documents no longer tracked or documented why this was happening. 

Whistleblowers said that while this reduction in the nuance and tracking of people's deaths took place, they tried to raise the alarm of the the trends affecting trans youth with leaders and managers.

They say the leaders failed to engage or "ignored" these communications, part of a broader culture of suppressing this information in meetings and preventing the death figures from being included in freedom of information requests.

What else was going on during this time?

Outside of the clinic, a broader assault was taking place, with anti-trans rhetoric in much of the media and coming from many politicians.

This inspired a wave of hate: staff harassment and an alarming increase of "malicious emails, leaflets and Twitter" sent to the Tavistock.

It led to incredibly low morale at the institution, which ultimately played a part in its closure and the commissioning of the Cass Review into gender identity services for children. The review also acknowledges that the service did oversee some suicides, although it doesn’t go into detail.

This is something the service itself even acknowledged prior to it's closure, noting that post the Bell vs Tavistock case, β€œIf GIC waitlists continue to grow, there may be an increased chance of a serious incident” and β€œThe risk is very real, and sadly we have lost a patient on the waiting list in this past quarter to suicide.”

Analysis: The devastating consequence of a culture war

While data is being suppressed and reports misused for political gain and anti-trans agendas - as this investigation shows, transgender youth are feeling no option but to take their own lives. That is the devastating consequence of the UK's culture war on our community's children.

This investigation came out in a week where 'Equalities' Minister Kemi Badenoch bragged on X that during her time in office, she intentionally stacked "gender-critical men and women in the UK government, holding the positions that mattered most in Equalities and Health."

She was sharing a clip that framed England's decision as 'leading' on the ban of puberty blockers. The other read on this is, of course, that we are an international outlier - multiple studies from all over the world show gender-affirming care is safe and saves the lives of vulnerable transgender youth.

Meanwhile, the Cass Review, which Badenoch and many gender-critical campaigners now hold so dearly, continues to be critiqued for its methodological flaws. This week, a working group of UK academics led by Dr Chris Noone found it to be "deeply flawed". Meanwhile, its deep connections with people and organisations who advocate for so-called 'conversion therapy', internationally recognised as a psychologically damaging experience, continue to be exposed.

At the time of publishing, NHS England declined to respond to our story after multiple phone conversations with the press team.

Where were the journalists on this one?

After weeks of following a story about a "duplicitous" campaign to frame an information-gathering process that will restrict families and trans youth's access to life-saving drugs as 'extra support', a new twist.

This week, the Good Law Project's Jolyon Maugham published an extensive investigation, with information from two whistleblowers plus FOIs and public information to connect the dots and expose a potential cover-up of rising transgender youth suicides.

It shows just how vital investing in investigating proper queer accountability journalism is. But more than that - why it's crucial we spend as much time, attention and energy as we can on changing the newsroom.

As Maughum set out: "In a country with endless coverage of trans people in the BBC, The Times, The Mail, The Observer, The Telegraph and so one, it is extraordinary that no one has done this bit of open source journalism."

With more queer and Trans+ journalists in the newsroom, stories like this won't just be covered by us. The whole media will do what it should do best: Investigate scandals and bring leaders to account.

We're running a membership drive this month because we do this work all year round: Suporting a new generation of LGBTQIA+ creatives to have the journalistic craft, and strategic communication skill to tell these stories with justice.

The Public Interest News Foundation is match funding every single membership month this month, and we are so close to hitting our goal in it. Literally, a handful of members away. Will you help us get there?