NHS child gender clinic whistleblower made 'Jimmy Savile' warnings

Whistleblower suing NHS’s only child gender clinic for freezing her out for raising concerns on puberty blockers said hospital could be a ‘Jimmy Savile waiting to happen’ tribunal hears

  • Sonia Appleby admitted she had mentioned paedophile DJ in training sessions
  • But NHS Trust claims she linked Savile to a potential drug scandal at the clinic 
  • She is claiming that she was ‘subjected to detriments’ by the NHS Trust
  • She alleged management directed safeguarding concerns should not go to her
  • Legal actions come just six months after High Court ruling on Keira Bell case
  • Ruled under 16s unlikely to be able to give informed consent on puberty blockers

A whistleblower at England’s only gender clinic for children warned the controversial clinic could be another ‘Jimmy Savile waiting to happen’, it was claimed today.

Sonia Appleby, 62, told a tribunal where she is suing her employers the Tavistock and Portman NHS Centre she only mentioned the DJ in training sessions.

She claims management then used it against her when she raised issues of under 16s being given puberty-blocking drugs in an act she described as ‘A full-blown organisational assault on me’.

Mrs Appleby alleged staff were told she had an ‘agenda’ and was sidelined by NHS bosses after she later raised concerns about giving medication to children suffering from gender dysphoria.

She claims since then she has been unable to fulfil her role as a named professional for safeguarding children at Tavistock and Portman NHS Centre, England’s only gender identity clinic for children.

Colleagues were alleged to have been dissuaded from reporting safeguarding concerns with child patients because of her stance on the use of the blocking drugs.

Mrs Appleby said the ostracism began after she raised health and safety concerns about the use of them in a ‘protected disclosure’ in October 2017.

An internal report, made in 2018 by then staff governor Dr David Bell, effectively accused the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) of fast-tracking children and adolescents for gender transition.

Sonia Appleby is claiming she was ‘subjected to detriments’ by the controversial NHS trust

The employment tribunal is unusual in that the complainant is still working for the trust

In November 2019 Mrs Appleby sued the Trust for ‘detriments’ she alleged she suffered at the hands of the Trust.

Mrs Appleby states that concerns were raised after she used Jimmy Savile as an example of bad safeguarding practices during training sessions.

The DJ and Top of the Pops host, who died in 2011, was found to have committed sexual abuses on a grand scale – including against children in hospitals.

In her witness statement submitted to Central London Employment Tribunal today, the social worker stated she referenced Saville ‘numerous times’ at safeguarding training events for over five years.

She said her line manager, medical director Dr Dinesh Sinha, raised concerns that she was discussing the paedophile and ‘linking that to the GIDS service’.

The tribunal, held remotely via videolink, heard the meeting in July 2019 that Mrs Appleby was told there was an allegation that she said GIDS was ‘another Savile waiting to happen’ and that he proposed to put a letter in her file.

She was also accused of being transphobic and not understanding gender because of her concerns about the use of puberty blockers.

But Mrs Appleby said: ‘I said to him that I absolutely refuted that, but I do discuss Jimmy Savile during training and that is in the context of how to manage allegations against staff, professionals or carers in situations where under 18s are or are suspected of being abused.

Keira Bell, 23, who began taking puberty blockers when she was 16 before ‘detransitioning’

Psychiatric nurse reveals Tavistock referred children for medication in ‘quick’ process

Susan Evans, who was previously employed by the Tavistock as a psychiatric nurse, previously said she hoped for a ‘change their attitude’ at the NHS trust.

She said: ‘It was just to ensure that there was a sort of pause on what’s currently happening with this kind of, at times quick, process towards a medicalised treatment and to allow more time for assessment and psychological treatments for young people.’

She added: ‘I’m hoping now that they will be asked to take serious steps towards addressing their treatment protocols… Certainly what is not going to happen is children won’t go to the Tavistock and after two or three appointments be referred for medication, which is what was happening, despite their denials.’

Asked about whether the ruling would have an impact on transgender adults, Ms Evans said: ‘Generally, this is just my clinical opinion, is that really anyone who considers taking steps to transgender should certainly examine their kind of emotional world, their mental state before progressing to something physical and taking those steps, you shouldn’t do any of that without (a) kind of consideration and investigation.

‘I certainly think that if you’re going to alter your body, and make adjustments to your body, that it’s worth, whether you go on to do it or not, taking steps in that way.’

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘We welcome the clarity which the court’s decision brings. 

‘The Tavistock have immediately suspended new referrals for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for the under 16s, which in future will only be permitted where a court specifically authorises it. 

‘Dr Hilary Cass is conducting a wider review on the future of gender identity services.’ 

‘It is absolutely necessary for me to talk about Jimmy Savile within the context of managing allegations about individuals who perpetrate physically, sexual and emotional abuse against children and adults.

‘Jimmy Savile is a well-known perpetrator of sexual abuse, meaning that whoever is talking about me talking about Jimmy Savile, does not properly understand what ‘talking about Jimmy Savile’ means in the context of safeguarding children.

‘I do believe that this allegation was made to me because of my protected disclosures and a desire by the Trust, Dr Polly Carmichael, to hamper my ability to operate. It was a full-blown organisational assault on me

‘Talking about Jimmy Savile is an absolutely integral part that staff understand what they need to do, particularly as a result of the Lampard inquiry [the probe into Savile allegations] process, that they should know what to do if they think a patient is being harmed by a celebrity/VIP, which is the Jimmy Savile reference.

‘It is incongruent to say that I need to ‘exercise care’ in my language to staff with safeguarding.

‘Jimmy Savile has to be discussed in relation to safeguarding. It is that simple. What Dr Sinha has failed to ask himself is ‘why would staff at GIDS be so sensitive about the phrase ‘Jimmy Savile’?’.’

She continued: ‘In addition, I believe that GIDS/Trust was using the allegation as a threat against me to prevent me carrying out my proper function, due to my [protected disclosures], to effectively to silence and intimidate me, and to diminish me and the role I was attempting to carry out in good faith.

‘The Trust, somewhat cleverly, thought they had a good plank, to make it so difficult for me that it would be untenable to do her job.

‘As I plead this was to prevent a repeat of bad publicity in retaliation for my [protected disclosures].

‘The phrase ‘I may need to investigate the matter formally if there are further reports of this type of incident’ left me vulnerable to bad faith allegations, from those who would call fellow clinicians ‘transphobes’ simply for their clinical decision.

‘The Trust had already demonstrated to me it would not even be investigated.

‘This led me to conclude that the Trust had no interest in the veracity of the allegations, or even giving the appearance of investigating the matter in an appropriate way.’

In response, the NHS Trust said: ‘Whereas GIDS adopts a broader holistic approach to gender-related issues, the claimant’s views are rooted in traditional psychoanalytic means of dealing with patients, causing some GIDS staff to perceive that the claimant was one of a number of Trust personnel who viewed GIDS with suspicion/scepticism.’

In a witness statement the Trust added: ‘During a review of GIDS undertaken by Dr Sinha, concerns arose that the claimant had compared the situation in GIDS to a ‘Jimmy Savile type situation’.

‘Given the sensitive nature of the work of GIDS, the potentially inflammatory and insensitive nature of the comment and the fragile morale of GIDS staff, the respondent contends that it was reasonable and appropriate that Dr Sinha investigate the alleged comment with the claimant in order to assure himself that there were no underlying or fundamental concerns about the service and also to counsel the claimant to exercise care in the language used which could be upsetting to staff.’

Ms Appleby launched a crowdfunding site for her case that has so far raised more than £118,000.

On the site, she says she has 39 years’ experience of social work in child protection.

She said: ‘I have always supported the availability of a gender identity service for children, adolescents, adults and their families, and staff who deliver these services, but like other NHS services, the National Gender Identity Service, in doing its work, needs to be transparent and open to safeguarding commentary regarding the delivery of its services.

‘This is not an ‘anti-trans’ case. I am supportive of the transgender community and their right to seek services that are both supportive and safe.’

The Tavistock Clinic denies subjecting Mrs Appleby to detriment due to her public interest disclosure. 

The hearing comes six months after Kiera Bell, a 23-year-old woman treated there, was victorious in a High Court action against the trust which saw judges rule children under 16 are unlikely to be able to give ‘informed consent’ to take puberty blockers.

Ms Bell began taking puberty blockers when she was 16, was injected with testosterone at 17 and had a mastectomy aged 20, before ‘detransitioning’. 

She claimed she was treated like a ‘guinea pig’ at the clinic, and said doctors failed to carry out a proper psychiatric assessment and should have challenged her more over her decision to transition to a male as a teenager. 

The judges said in their ruling: ‘It is highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers.

‘It is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.’

Why did the NHS let me change sex? Keira Bell tells her story in the hope that it will ‘serve as a warning to others’

IT engineer Miss Bell is pictured outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London in January

In an interview earlier this year, Keira told the Daily Mail what happened to her, in order to highlight her plight and, she says, serve as a warning to others. 

Keira was brought up in Hertfordshire, with two younger sisters, by her single mother, as her parents had divorced. Her father, who served in the U.S. military in Britain and has since settled here, lived a few miles away.

She was always a tomboy, she said. She did not like wearing skirts, and can still vividly remember two occasions when she was forced by her family to go out in a dress.

She told the Daily Mail: ‘At 14, I was pitched a question by my mother, about me being such a tomboy. She asked me if I was a lesbian, so I said no. She asked me if I wanted to be a boy and I said no, too.’

But the question set Keira thinking that she might be what was then called transsexual, and today is known as transgender.

‘The idea was disgusting to me,’ she tells me. ‘Wanting to change sex was not glorified as it is now. It was still relatively unknown. Yet the idea stuck in my mind and it didn’t go away.’

Keira’s road to the invasive treatment she blames for blighting her life, began after she started to persistently play truant at school. An odd one out, she insisted on wearing trousers — most female pupils there chose skirts — and rarely had friends of either sex.

When she continually refused to turn up at class as a result of bullying, she was referred to a therapist.

She told him of her thoughts that she wanted to be a boy.

Very soon, she was referred to her local doctor who, in turn, sent her to the child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) near her home. From there, because of her belief that she was born in the wrong body, she was given treatment at the Tavistock 

Keira had entered puberty and her periods had begun. ‘The Tavistock gave me hormone blockers to stop my female development. It was like turning off a tap,’ she says.

‘I had symptoms similar to the menopause when a woman’s hormones drop. I had hot flushes, I found it difficult to sleep, my sex drive disappeared. I was given calcium tablets because my bones weakened.’

Keira claims she was not warned by the Tavistock therapists of the dreadful symptoms ahead.

Her breasts, which she had been binding with a cloth she bought from a transgender internet site, did not instantly disappear. ‘I was in nowhere land,’ she says.

Yet back she went to the Tavistock, where tests were run to see if she was ready for the next stage of her treatment after nearly a year on blockers. 

A few months later, she noticed the first wispy hairs growing on her chin. At last something was happening. Keira was pleased.

She was referred to the Gender Identity Clinic in West London, which treats adults planning to change sex.

After getting two ‘opinions’ from experts there, she was sent to a hospital in Brighton, East Sussex, for a double mastectomy, aged 20. 

By now, she had a full beard, her sex drive returned, and her voice was deep.

After her breasts were removed, she began to have doubts about becoming a boy.

Despite her doubts, she pressed on. She changed her name and sex on her driving licence and birth certificate, calling herself Quincy (after musician Quincy Jones) as she liked the sound of it. She also altered her name by deed poll, and got a government-authorised Gender Recognition Certificate making her officially male. 

In January last year, soon after her 22nd birthday, she had her final testosterone injection. 

But, after years of having hormones pumped into your body, the clock is not easily turned back. It is true that her periods returned and she slowly began to regain a more feminine figure around her hips. Yet her beard still grows.

‘I don’t know if I will ever really look like a woman again,’ she said. ‘I feel I was a guinea pig at the Tavistock, and I don’t think anyone knows what will happen to my body in the future.’ 

Even the question of whether she will be able to have children is in doubt.

She has started buying women’s clothes and using female toilets again, but says: ‘I worry about it every time in case women think I am a man. I get nervous. I have short hair but I am growing it and, perhaps, that will make a difference.’ 

By law she is male, and she faces the bureaucratic nightmare of changing official paperwork back to say she is female.

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