Children in England are being prescribed sex change drugs by foreign doctors over the internet without any parental consent, an investigation by a British newspaper has claimed.
In the UK, the prescription of puberty blockers to children under the age of 16 has been mostly barred since December, unless expressly signed off by two specialist doctors and later approved by a court.
However, an undercover investigation by the Daily Telegraph found that Europe-based online clinics are using a legal loophole to skirt the regulations. Despite Brexit, pharmacies in Britain are still accepting prescriptions - with a few exceptions - from doctors within the EU, allowing online clinics in Europe to prescribe English patients over the internet.
In the investigation, a reporter posed as a 15-year-old girl who was seeking gender reassignment therapy. The online clinic, GenderGP, was reported to have prescribed the ‘child' testosterone, after just two consultations over Skype and without any parental consent.
The report said that GenderGP staff did not question the reporter's belief that she was in fact a male, telling her: "we're not worried about your truth because there's no debate about that".
The prescription was signed by a doctor in Romania, however, the doctor was not even available for a consultation and the reporter was instead told to consult with a doctor in Egypt, who told the supposed 15-year-old girl that it was "excellent" that she planned on never having children.
The Egyptian doctor, identified as Yasmeen El Rakhawy, told the reporter that online clinics such as GenderGP are not required to perform as much scrutiny "as other practices will do, or will demand".
"At no point will counselling sessions be enforced. At no point will the medical consultations be, you know, required regularly. It's only if there's ever a concern," the doctor reportedly said, adding: "I have no concern that this is absolutely the right path for you... Getting to that first prescription is on the horizon now. You can anticipate that and I appreciate the excitement."
After just three Skype appointments and some emails with GenderGP, the reporter was allegedly given a prescription for the gender transition drugs.
While the UK officially left the European Union at the beginning of the year, the loophole in which prescriptions from EU-based doctors are accepted in British pharmacies remains open.
The practice of foreign doctors prescribing English patients has raised concerns over the fact that European doctors do not have access to NHS records and therefore may prescribe drugs that may be harmful to the patient. Doctors in the EU are also exempt from UK regulators.
As opposed to the UK, some countries within the EU, such as France and Italy, mandate that pharmacists only accept prescriptions from doctors from within their respective countries.
In response to the investigation, a teacher and transgender rights advocate, Debbie Hayton, told the paper that the legal loophole should be closed.
"For a doctor in Eastern Europe to prescribe a class three controlled drug to a child they have never spoken to is an egregious breach of protocol and safeguarding...the adults need to be called to account," Hayton said.
When questioned about the practice of prescribing life-altering drugs to children, GenderGP told the paper on Thursday that "not all parents are supportive" and therefore, when children are able to provide consent "in their own right, then that treatment can be appropriate and necessary".
The paper also claimed that GenderGP confirmed to them that they have previously prescribed sex-change drugs to children as young as twelve-years-old, and puberty blockers to children as young as ten.
The clinic said that while there are "no formal qualifications in this field" their specialists are "very experienced and fully educated in transgender healthcare". The clinic also claimed that their doctors are bound by the regulations of their local countries.
GenderGP went on to say that it treats children by "stage not age", claiming that there might be instances in which there are "compelling reasons" to provide sex-change drugs to a child as young as twelve if the child is "completely aligned with their gender identity".
"GenderGP operates according to a gender-affirming model of care. Transgender patients of all ages who come to our service can be assured of receiving belief, support and compassionate access to medical care," the clinic said.
On its website, GenderGP denounced the investigation as "fake news", saying that the report will not "impact our commitment to the community."
"We will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that those people who need care have access to it. GenderGP is an international organisation which operates 100% legally and we are committed to improving trans-healthcare at a fundamental level throughout the world.
"Trans people exist, the treatment pathways are clear. The scandal is not that GenderGP is providing care but that national healthcare providers are withholding care. We will never give up," the clinic pronounced.
The founder of the clinic, GP Dr Helen Webberley, was suspended by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in 2018 after it was found that she had prescribed hormones to a twelve-year-old child, yet no finding of fact was made against her practice.
Dr Webberley was later fined for operating an unlicensed transgender clinic from her home, for which she faces a "substantive" General Medical Council hearing in July. She has since moved to Spain, from where she operates the online clinic.