Letter: Contraceptive advice for under-16s

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The Independent Online
Sir: The issue of confidentiality for young people seeking advice on sexual matters, including advice on contraception, is at the centre of the heated debate between the Department of Health and the Department for Education. This debate began last December, when the DfE issued a draft circular containing guidelines for the provision of sex education in schools.

The Regional Directors of Public Health were among many health professionals who responded to these draft guidelines. We very much welcomed the way the guidelines set sex education in schools within the context of the Government's health strategy, and recognised the need for health and education professionals to work closely together.

However, we were very concerned about the way the circular dealt with the issue of confidentiality for pupils under 16 seeking contraceptive advice from teachers, especially the suggestion that teachers giving such advice without parental knowledge or consent might be committing a criminal offence. We felt that such active discouragement of respect for confidentiality was likely to inhibit the development of a trusting relationship between teachers and pupils, which is essential to encourage young people to seek advice and information from appropriate adults.

Our recommendation was that the appropriate person to give such advice is a doctor, nurse or family planning specialist. These health professionals have all been issued with detailed guidelines on confidentiality for under 16s agreed by the professional groups concerned. Endorsement of these guidelines would be a constructive way for the Department of Education to approach this sensitive issue. Teachers need to be able to exercise their own professional judgement about when to maintain confidentiality, and when to refer a young person who seeks their advice to the appropriate health professional.

On this issue we very much welcome and support the approach taken by Baroness Cumberlege last week in restating that the issue of whether to provide contraceptives to people under 16 is an issue for clinical judgement.

Yours sincerely,

SHEILA ADAM, Director of Public Health, North Thames (West) Regional Health Authority; JOHN ASHTON, North West RHA; DEIRDRE CUNNINGHAM, North Thames (East) RHA; J. A. MUIR GRAY, Anglia and Oxford RHA; STEPHEN HORSLEY, North West RHA; GABRIEL SCALLY, South Thames RHA; RICHARD ALDERSLADE, Trent RHA; SUE ATKINSON, South and West RHA; LIAM DONALDSON, Northern and Yorkshire RHA; ROD GRIFFITHS, West Midlands RHA; ALASTAIR MASON, South and West RHA; PAT TROOP, Anglia and Oxford RHA

London, W2

6 May

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