Last night, Labor MP The Hon. Greg Donnelly, delivered a speech in the NSW Legislative Council highlighting grave concerns about Maple Leaf House, a government funded facility in Newcastle providing services to children and young people presenting with gender dysphoria.
Mr Donnelly called for an urgent, independent inquiry into the facility, raising “serious concerns regarding various treatment practices being undertaken at MLH”, including inadequate record keeping, coercion of parents, and rushed, risky treatment practices.
In light of the growing evidence and research in both Australia and overseas regarding the harms of medicalised gender affirmation treatments for minors, Women’s Forum Australia supports Mr Donnelly’s calls for an independent inquiry into Maple Leaf House. We would also support a broader state-wide inquiry into such treatments in NSW, as is currently being called for in Victoria.
It is critical that any such inquiries take place in advance of legislation 'banning conversion practices' being proposed by both Independent NSW MP Alex Greenwich and the NSW Labor Government. While Mr Greenwich has already introduced his bill, the Government has indicated that it will introduce its own before the end of the year.
If the Government's bill is anything like that introduced in states like Victoria, it would restrict, punish and/or criminalise medical professionals, parents and others who are trying to help those suffering with gender dysphoria in a way that doesn’t simply just affirm a person’s ‘gender identity’. This is particularly concerning for gender dysphoric children, of whom girls are grossly overrepresented (see our submission on the Government’s consultation regarding this issue). It would also make it even more difficult to question and oppose concerning practices taking place at facilities like Maple Leaf House.
The full text of Mr Donnelly’s speech is below:
As I have reported to the House before, Maple Leaf House (MLH) is a facility established, funded and operated by NSW Health to treat children and adolescents who may be or are gender dysphoric. Since 1st April 2021 when it officially opened and up to 24th September 2022, 487 received so-called treatment there. Almost 13 months later who knows how many have now passed through its front door.
Honourable members will know that since September last year I have been, both inside and outside of the Parliament, raising serious concerns regarding various treatment practices being undertaken at MLH.
Such have been my concerns, I have corresponded on both 29th March and 23rd May this year with Ms Susan Pearce AM, Secretary, NSW Ministry of Health, Dr Kerry Chant, Chief Health Officer, Deputy Secretary, NSW Ministry of Health and Dr Murray Wright, Chief Psychiatrist, NSW Ministry of Health, and outlined them. To my surprise and disappointment, I did not receive an acknowledgement letter from any of them, let alone a detailed response to the matters I raised.
In an Adjournment Speech I gave on 22nd August, I informed the House that I had sought and received, through making a GIPA application, pursuing a matter before NCAT and undertaking discussions with the Crown Solicitor’s Office, some limited information about the goings-on within MLH. Specifically, it has been established that:
- NSW Health does not have a functioning and accessible record keeping system that details the natal sex of child and adolescent patients receiving treatment at MLH. Hence, the inability of NSW Health to provide a breakdown of the total number of MLH patients by natal sex, those receiving puberty blocker treatment by natal sex and those receiving stage two cross-sex hormone treatment by natal sex;
- NSW Health only maintains a manual register, I repeat manual register, of the number of children and adolescents being treated at MLH receiving stage one puberty blocker treatment; and
- NSW Health does not have a functioning and accessible record keeping system regarding children and adolescents receiving stage two cross-sex hormones, even though MLH clinicians prescribe such treatment and make direct referrals to endocrinologists et al. who are known to be prescribers of them.
With a growing number of overseas jurisdictions banning, except in very narrow and defined circumstances, the prescription of puberty blocker and cross-sex hormone treatment for children and adolescents, it is unbelievable that MLH can get away with such sub-standard and I would submit dangerous record keeping.
For any member of the Parliament, who believes I have been unduly focusing on this matter, can I outline the following that has been reported to me by highly qualified and experienced clinicians working in both the public hospital system and in community practice, with direct knowledge of treatment practices being undertaken at the facility:
- MLH has established a reputation for coercing parents with unjustifiable threats about their children’s mental health. This unprofessional behaviour of suggesting that a child will commit suicide if they are not allowed to “transition to another sex”, has even occurred with a child being present and listening to the conversation;
- MLH has sought to coerce parents by threatening and commencing legal action to override parental responsibility with respect to their children’s medical decisions;
- regarding the treatment of children and adolescents at MLH, it is not uncommon for the first clinical appointment to be with an endocrinologist who recommends and endorses specific off-label hormonal treatment, before any psychological or psychiatric evaluation has been conducted. This therefore means, that treatment is being recommended before assessment has been conducted;
- internal clinical concerns raised by experienced in-house MLH psychologists and counsellors about patient suitability, have been dismissed in order to expedite off-label hormonal treatment; and
- since opening in April 2021, numerous staff have left working at the facility as a result of their concerns regarding off-label hormonal treatment being overridden by certain MLH doctors.
I have used my best endeavours, for over 12 months now to alert the most senior officials of NSW Health to the harmful treatment practices that have, are and continue to be undertaken at MLH. The fact of the matter is that as early as late 2021 it was becoming an open secret within the Newcastle medical and health community that highly qualified and experienced clinicians were expressing serious concerns about the treatment practices being undertaken at MLH.
Knowing what we know already, nothing short of a full, open and independent review of the operation of MLH and, in particular, its treatment practices is urgently required. This must be commenced immediately.”
Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.
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