Helen Webberley, the doctor behind GenderGP, has been ruled fit to practice medicine and can return to work, according to a judge at the Royal Courts of Justice last week. This marks the end of a seven year battle between Webberley, the General Medical Council (GMC), and other professionals involved in trans healthcare and the regulation of healthcare, with gender affirming care at the heart of the matter.
This tale is in some ways long and complex, but is also quite simple. As a practicing GP, in 2015 Webberley could no longer do nothing about the increasing lack of access for young people to gender-affirming care, and decided to open a private practice, GenderGP, to provide that care in a supportive environment. In the UK, GPs can take interests in certain areas of care and become specialists: this is what Webberley did, becoming a GP with a special interest in gender dysphoria (as ruled by the judge, in this instance).
Eventually, other colleagues in the field of gender-affirming care made complaints to the General Medical Council about Helen Webberley’s conduct, something she was warned would happen. The allegations against Webberley included that:
- Between March 2016 and November 2016, she failed to provide good clinical care to three patients (known as A, B, and C), and that in September 2016 she inappropriately prescribed to two of these patients;
- On 10 January 2017 during an unannounced CQC inspection of Dr Matt Limited where Dr Helen Webberley was the Safeguarding Lead, she was unaware of, and had never seen, the safeguarding policy;
- Her conduct was dishonest in relation to information she provided to the GMC and the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, and in her failure to provide relevant information to a pharmacy;
- When acting as the principle provider of the GenderGP service, Dr Helen Webberley attempted to avoid the regulatory framework of the UK;
- And on 5 October 2018 at Merthyr Tydfil Magistrates’ Court, Dr Helen Webberley was convicted of two counts in relation to the carrying on or managing of an independent medical agency without being registered under the Care Standards Act 2000, and was fined £12,000.
Ultimately, there were over 100 allegations against Helen Webberley. In May 2017, the GMC stopped Webberley from working while they began their investigation, which was meant to take 18 months. However, it wasn’t until December 2019 that the GMC concluded the investigation – it then took until April 2020 for them to notify Webberley that the case was being referred to the Medical Pratitioner’s Tribunal Service to hear whether she failed to provide Good Medical Care.
Her case was heard in July 2021 by the MPTS. In June 2022, they ruled that Webberley had committed serious misconduct after upholding just one ground of all the allegations: that she failed to have a conversation about the potential impacts of puberty blockers with a 10 year old. As a result, the MPTS suspended Webberley for a further two months.
Webberley then appealed this finding, with this appeal being heard on 14 March 2023 in the Royal Courts of Justice. And that brings us to last week’s ruling in this case: that Webberley did not commit serious misconduct, can return to work, and the case cannot be brought back to MPTS.
It was not disputed that Helen Webberley did not have a conversation with this patient about the potential fertility impacts. However, two points of discussion around this were that a) Webberley did have this discussion (to some extent) with the patient’s mother, and b) puberty blockers themselves do not have fertility impacts: it is only if an individual goes on to HRT after this, as many do.
It is these mitigating factors that led the judge to rule that this did not mean that Webberley failed to provide Good Clinical Care: in fact, the judge also ruled that the case could not be heard again by MPTS because there was a good chance that it would not result in a suspension.
While this case ended up concerned with the minute details of one patient’s care, it started, and still ended, as an attack on gender affirming care. GenderGP is the only private route to gender-affirming healthcare for under 18s in the UK, while they face waiting lists years long.
This attack on private care didn’t end here: the NHS’ proposals for the service that will replace GIDS included mandatory reporting of families to social services if their child is taking puberty blockers or HRT prescribed by private practitioners. We will continue to see these attacks over the coming years as we weather this moral panic of a storm, but we must also celebrate the wins along the way.
Like any service or practitioner, GenderGP and Helen Webberley are not above criticism or question. However, it is clear that this case was always bigger than Webberley and GenderGP. This win is a reminder that under the eye of a fair, balanced, and unbiased judge and jury, gender-affirming care comes out on top.