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NEWS > Alumnae News > What Went Wrong at The Tavistock?

What Went Wrong at The Tavistock?

A powerful new book from BBC journalist and LEH alumna Hannah Barnes, Class of 2000, about the closure of Britain's only gender service for children, hit the bestseller lists last month.
Hannah spots her book on sale for the first time.
Hannah spots her book on sale for the first time.

Time To Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children has been widely praised across the media. The Guardian described it as a ‘complex’ story “that needed telling”. While The Sunday Times said it was: “a deeply reported, scrupulously non-judgemental account” and The Observer said: “This is what journalism is for.”

The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), based at The Tavistock, first opened nearly 35 years ago, and was initially launched to provide talking therapies for young people who were questioning their gender identity.   After a series of critical reports, the NHS announced that the clinic will close this spring.

Over the last decade, more than 1,000 children and young people were prescribed puberty blocking medication, often beginning a pathway that led to medical transition. At the same time, the number of referrals exploded, increasing 30-fold, with by far the majority of new patients nearly all adolescent girls.

Based upon years of meticulous research, thousands of pages of documents and more that 100 hours of interviews with clinicians and patients, Hannah’s book explores what went wrong at The Tavistock. She investigates how, in the words of some former staff, GIDS has been the site of a serious medical scandal, in which ideological concerns took priority over clinical practice.

Hannah joined LEH in the Sixth Form.  Her mother, Brenda Painton, was a long time LEH teacher, heading up both the Maths department and the Sixth Form in her time here.

She says: “I have been completely overwhelmed by the response to Time to Think, with favourable reviews coming from national and international newspapers of all political stripes. The book, thankfully, has been seen for what it is and what I aways aimed to produce – an extensive piece of reportage, which is both fair and forensic in approach.

“For me this has never been an ideological story. It is a story about the standard of healthcare being provided to a group of, often, vulnerable and distressed children and young people; a story of how well-meaning professionals can go wrong; and a story about the lack of adequate oversight from so many. I have at all times tried to be compassionate, acknowledging both that the Gender Identity Development Service has been seen as a lifeline for some, but also that it has harmed others.”

Hannah is an award-winning journalist and currently works as Investigations Producer at the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight.  She moved there in 2016 after being a daily programme editor at Radio 4’s Today programme. Before that she was reporter and producer on a range of BBC radio programmes and documentaries. 

She adds: “Being the one answering questions, rather than asking them, has been a very strange – and nerve-wracking - experience! While live reporting is not new to me, having to answer any question that is thrown out you, knowing that every answer will be scrutinised by those listening, is not easy. Nor is being in the public eye. All that aside, I am enormously grateful to everyone who spoke to me for the book and for allowing me to share this story with the world. And I am pleased that it is forcing – sometimes for the first time - calm conversations about this area of healthcare not just in the UK, but much further afield too: across Europe, in Australia, and the United States.”

Time To Think by Hannah Barnes is published by Swift Press.  It costs £20 for the hardback and is available on Amazon and in bookshops across the country.

If you are logged into your Holles Connect account, you will be able  to see the cover of Time To Think below, along with Hannah's author photo.

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