Blair targets teenage sex problems of young

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BRITAIN'S APPALLING record of unwanted teenage pregnancies and under-age sex problems is to be tackled by health- care co-ordinators to be appointed across the country under an initiative announced next week.

The co-ordinators, health- service doctors and managers will for the first time be given responsibility for bringing together family doctors, family- planning clinics and other sources of advice to improve services that may help reduce the number of unmarried teenage mothers and halt soaring levels of sexually transmitted disease.

Although most pregnancies among under-age girls are in inner cities and poor areas, the initiative will also be directed at the leafy suburbs.

Tony Blair and Tessa Jowell, Minister for Public Health, are expected to announce the plan on Monday with the results of a year-long study by the Government's social-exclusion unit. Mr Blair is said to have intervened to veto any change in prescribing laws for contraceptives after protests by David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

Mr Blunkett was appalled at a suggestion that school nurses should be given powers to prescribe contraceptives, and made sure that idea was dropped, with the support of Mr Blair. He told colleagues it would happen "over my dead body". School nurses will continue to advise pupils on sexual health and refer children if necessary to the family doctor or family- planning clinic if they want contraception. Under laws which have been tested by anti-contraception campaigners, doctors may prescribe the Pill to under-age children without telling their parents.

Mr Blair will announce that there will be no liberalising in the law, and no change in rules to allow the morning-after Pill to be sold in pharmacists as an over-the-counter drug without a prescription.

There has been a campaign for sale of the morning-after Pill without prescription, and Mr Blair's announcement will come as a disappointment. But he will be attacked for going too far by opponents of more freely available contraception for children, including Ann Widdecombe, Tory spokeswoman on health, who believes further measures to provide contraception will encourage more teenagers to experiment with sex.

A Whitehall source said: "We are taking a middle way. There will be no condom machines in schools and there is no question of dishing out the Pill in schools."

The health co-ordinators will attempt to promote best practice around the country in dealing with teenage sexual issues. They will take as their model the "Babydoll" scheme in Rotherham, where school children are given lifelike dolls which cry in the night to show them some of the realities of looking after a child when they are of school age.

Mr Blair's appearance at the launch of the strategy is intended to emphasise the importance the Government attaches to its drive to reduce unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among the young.