Dr Helen Webberley: the MPTS hearing
Here we look at the allegations facing Dr Webberley, how they came about and what led to her license to practise being at risk. It is important to note that no complaints have been made by any patients of Dr Webberley.
When deciding which medical practitioners to investigate, the General Medical Council (GMC) must follow a clear process. When it receives a letter from another doctor highlighting what they perceive to be bad practice, that letter is rightly considered and then investigated or dismissed.
But what happens when opinion comes into the mix? When complaints are born out of disagreements between the ideologies of different experts and the way this informs their approach to their patients?
When Dr Helen Webberley began her work with the trans community, complaint after complaint began to roll in. These all came from NHS colleagues, never from patients, and were focussed on her work providing affirmative care to young people.
Her approach was unorthodox in the UK, it was the approach taken in more progressive countries and in parts of the US, but in her home country it was not standard practise to affirm trans kids.
Initial complaints against Dr Webberley were duly considered and then dismissed accordingly, with no fault found.
However, as the sustained campaign continued as more and more allegations were made, the GMC had no option but to investigate further. Throughout the course of the investigation the list of accusations has grown, moving outside of her work with trans youth to other areas. Looking to find anything that would prove her unfit to practise.
One such allegation relates to the conviction Dr Webberley received for operating an online transgender clinic without a license. When she attempted to register the clinic her application was refused, due to the ongoing GMC investigation. Instead she was asked to close the clinic until such time as the GMC investigation was concluded. She refused as doing so would have left her patients without care. They would have stayed that way for four more years (which is how long the investigation has taken to come to a conclusion).
The GMC’s website proudly states that it works ‘to protect patient safety and support medical education and practice across the UK.’ One might, understandably, assume then that the work done by Dr Webberley, which prompted the investigation, was at odds with this mission.
Let’s meet the patients:
- Patient A is a thriving, happy 17 year old man who was prescribed testosterone by Dr Webberley when he was 12. He was assigned female at birth and was started on blockers at the age of 9 by GIDS. At 12 he and his Mum asked the NHS specialist providing his care to allow him to progress in his male puberty. The answer was no. So he asked Dr Webberley and she said yes and in doing so gave him the care that saved his life, and the adolescence he deserved.
- Patient B was 10 when he first came to see Dr Webberley. He was questioning his gender and wanted to talk it through with someone, so Dr Webberley arranged for him to see a psychologist. Together they worked through his feelings around his gender. When Patent B started puberty, together they agreed that puberty blockers would help. The NHS waiting list was so long that he would have started his periods and grown breasts before they would have seen him. So Dr Webberley gave him the blockers which allowed time and space and a childhood free from the fear of pubertal development that forced him into a gender with which he did not identify.
- Patient C was 16, and had spent many years in CAMHS. He was distraught and suicidal, having already made several suicide attempts. He was on a long waiting list for the NHS and was desperate. Dr Webberley gave him the gender-affirming care he needed. She prescribed him testosterone which allowed him to develop into the man he was until the NHS were able to take over his care.
The consensus of the expert opinion gathered by the GMC in its defence is that, despite their suffering, Dr Webberley should not have intervened. Instead she should have allowed these individuals to wait to get access to care on the NHS. Even though this would have taken years, even though they were suffering and would continue to suffer while they waited, even though international guidance shows that this is the right course of treatment, even though countless young people have self-harmed and committed suicide while waiting, even though private medicine is an accepted complementary model of care in the UK.
But she didn’t, she stepped in and took responsibility for these patients. She used her knowledge of hormone manipulation and learned all she could about trans healthcare and she made a real difference – just ask those impacted.
Now she must face the consequences of doing so.
While we won’t know the outcome for some time, the hearing lasts 55 days, those doctors who have been through the process have cited GMC investigations as an ordeal that causes untold stress, it has even resulted in suicide. Throughout the process, Dr Webberley has stood firm, buoyed in the knowledge that her actions made a difference to her patients, but there is no doubt that the past four years have taken their toll. All we can hope for now, is a fair hearing and for the voices of the patients to be heard.