Nurses back use of Pill in schools

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SCHOOL NURSES should be given the right to prescribe the morning- after Pill and other contraceptives to help tackle Britain's high teenage pregnancy rate, nurse's leaders said yesterday.

The proposal, disclosed at the Royal College of Nursing's annual congress in Harrogate, outraged family campaigners who said it would turn nurses into "agents of the sex industry". But family planning organisations welcomed the suggestion as a move to help curb unplanned pregnancies.

The RCN called for all secondary schools to have weekly drop-in centres where pupils could get information about contraception and other health issues. The idea of extending prescribing of the morning-after Pill to school nurses emerged in a briefing given to reporters by leaders of the RCN but was not debated by the congress.

Jane Naish, community health adviser for the RCN said school nurses were often the first point of contact with the health service for worried adolescents and they were in the best position to provide advice and drugs, where necessary.

"Young people do come to school nurses for contraception and emergency contraception and at the very least I feel that school nurses should be able to directly prescribe contraception."

She added: "Adolescents often don't want to go to their GP because it is their parents' GP too and they are worried about confidentiality.

"They are not sure where they can get emergency contraception. They are more likely to talk to a school nurse who is not their doctor or their parents, and is someone they can trust."

Nurses working in independent schools can give out emergency contraception under so-called group protocol rules.But Ms Naish said the 4,000 nurses in secondary schools were less likely to operate a group protocol because of pressure of work.

Nurses at the conference yesterday voted to lobby the Government to address "inequalities in adolescent health care". Ms Naish said: "The numbers of school nurses have been cut over the last 10 years and vary enormously from region to region. Some big secondary schools have a nurse there all the time but others see a school nurse once a year."

Nuala Scarisbrick, of the anti-abortion charity Life, said: "We are horrified. At the moment it is not permissible for any child under 16 to be given any kind of medicine by a teacher or a nurse. School nurses should be there to comfort and console and bandage grazed knees - not turned into agents for the sex industry."

A spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: "We are very supportive of any plans that make emergency contraception easier to obtain because it will reduce the number of teenage pregnancies."

Nearly one in five young women said they had sex before 16, according to a Family Planning Association survey. Last year in England and Wales, 9.4 girls in every 1,000 under 16 became pregnant, according to government statistics.