THE Scottish Government must explore how the Cass Review on gender services for young people in England interacts with its plans to ban conversion therapy, the First Minister has said.

Proposals to ban the practice are yet to be introduced at Holyrood, but a consultation on the issue closed in April.

The Cass Review, a review of gender identity services for young people provided by the NHS in England, was published last month, leading to a pause in the prescription of puberty blockers and hormones for all new NHS Scotland patients under-18. 

The head of the review, Dr Hilary Cass, told Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee that some mental health practitioners are “anxious” that offering support to someone questioning their gender identity could be caught under the new law.

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While describing conversion therapy as a "totally unacceptable practice", Cass added that some medical professionals may be concerned about the legal implications of the ban when it comes to providing support to people about their gender identity.

“The anxiety that they might become the test case for that is making clinicians even more anxious about working in this area, and we do not want to do anything to frighten off professionals from working in it,” she told Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee last week.

“Walking that path is very difficult.”

She added: “I do not know how we get that balance right of protecting people from conversion therapy and not frightening therapists who are just doing their job by having an appropriate exploratory conversation with a young person.”

The National: Dr Hilary Cass claimed some clinicians are anxious about a ban on conversion therapyDr Hilary Cass claimed some clinicians are anxious about a ban on conversion therapy

The consultation document published earlier this year, however, suggested the Scottish Government’s plans would protect “non-directive and ethical guidance and support to a person who might be questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity or experiencing conflict or distress, whether that is provided by a healthcare practitioner, a family member or a religious leader”.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland on Monday, the First Minister John Swinney repeated his support for a ban, but said the questions raised by Dr Cass were valid.

“I think that’s one of the questions that has to be explored, and I think Dr Cass made a very fair point in that respect,” he said.

“I think in all aspects of the work that we undertake in relation to these questions and other questions where clinicians are involved, we want clinicians to be able to give the best support to patients, so we have to listen to clinical opinion very carefully.”

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The Scottish Government, he said, was “reflecting” on the consultation responses as well as the recommendations of the Cass Review, with a response on the latter expected before Holyrood’s summer recess.

Swinney was then asked if he believed a transgender woman was a woman. 

He said: “I believe a woman is an adult female born as a woman and I also accept that transgender women are defined as women.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Greens are pushing for a timetable from the government on a “full and watertight ban” on conversion practices.

In a letter to Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, the party’s equalities spokeswoman Maggie Chapman said: “Everyone in Scotland deserves to live their lives free from marginalisation and discrimination, no-one should be made to feel less equal because of who they are or who they love.

“Banning conversion practices is a vital step forward in ending the ideology that LGBTQIA+ identities are somehow wrong and must be changed.

“It is vital that the Scottish Government continues to prioritise this legislation and brings forward a full and watertight ban.”