19/10/2005

Lack of confidential teen sex advice ‘disastrous’

A lack of confidential sexual health advice for teenagers could be “disastrous”, a sexual health charity has warned.

Jan Barlow, Chief Executive of Brook, warned that a massive increase in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections could result if young people no longer had access to confidential advice.

The warning comes as the government consults on whether new guidance should be issued to health professionals, requiring them to report all under-age sexual activity to social workers and police.

Sue Axon, a mother who believes that she should have the right to know if her daughters have an abortion, is challenging the current guidance in court next month.

However a survey of 729 under-25s conducted by Brook found that almost two-thirds (64%) would be less likely to seek sexual advice if they knew that health workers could pass on information to police or social workers. The figure rose to almost three-quarters (74%) of under-16s.

The survey also found that nearly two thirds (62%) of under-16s rated confidentiality as the most important matter when seeking sexual health advice. Ninety-one per cent also said that they did not think health professionals should be allowed to tell anyone about visits from under-16s.

Ms Barlow said: “Any erosion of young people’s rights to receive sexual health advice and treatment would be disastrous. It could reverse all the good work that has been set in progress, leading to a whole generation of young people losing faith in the sexual health services available to them and to a massive increase in the rates of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

“Abusive or coercive relationships would also be more likely to remain hidden if young people felt there was no-one they could trust to listen to them in confidence.”

“It’s essential that the government stands by the approach adopted in its teenage pregnancy strategy, which emphasises the importance of confidentiality. The teenage pregnancy rate has fallen by 10% since that strategy was put in place. If young people lose confidence in health professionals, that trend will almost certainly be reversed.”

Brook has launched a new campaign, ‘Wise Up!’, in order to protect teenagers’ rights to confidentiality. The British Medical Association has supported the campaign. Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA’s ethics committee, said: “Mandatory reporting of non-abusive relationships threatens the trust that underpins the relationship between doctors and patients.”

(KMcA/SP)

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