PCT defends use of morning-after pill

MORNING-after pills are being given to Suffolk schoolgirls - with pupils as young as 13 able to access the emergency contraception without the knowledge of their parents.

MORNING-after pills are being given to Suffolk schoolgirls - with pupils as young as 13 able to access the emergency contraception without the knowledge of their parents.

In the 11 months between April last year and February this year, 68 morning-after pills were handed out to girls in the county's schools.

The news emerged amid national concerns that thousands of girls - some as young as 11 - could be given the emergency contraception at school without parental knowledge.

But Suffolk Primary Care Trust has stressed health professionals in the county were sticking to national Government guidelines. These only allow the emergency contraceptive pill to be given to those aged over 13 - but say under-16s can be “competent to give valid consent”.

The school-based health services - provided by highly-trained reproductive health nurses - are proving effective at cutting teenage pregnancy rates, the PCT said.

But fears have been voiced that the national policy could encourage young girls to engage in sex before they were ready.

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Norman Wells, director of Family and Youth Concern, an organisation which researches the causes and consequences of family breakdown, said: “Making contraception and the morning-after pill available to under-16s sends out the message that there is nothing wrong with underage sex and undermines the law on the age of consent.

“It inevitably results in young men putting pressure on vulnerable girls to have sex by telling them that if they are worried about getting pregnant, they can always go to the school nurse and get the morning-after pill without anyone needing to know.”

The confidential school-based services offer emergency contraception, free condoms and pregnancy tests. But they also offer advice to youngsters about contraceptives and relationships and how to delay having sex, a Suffolk PCT spokesman said.

Nine secondary schools in Suffolk PCT's area - excluding Waveney - offer school-based health services.

A PCT spokesman said: “We follow strict guidance to ensure children's safety.

“Our part in the school-based health services has proved effective. For example, in one school with a previously high teenage pregnancy rate there were no teenage pregnancies following the first year this school-based health service was set up.

“Young people appreciate the non-judgemental advice we can give on health matters, including their sexual health, how to avoid feeling pressured into having sex and also how to deal with the consequences appropriately.”

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