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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 12:37 GMT


School nurses 'should prescribe contraception'

The motion for school nurses to offer condoms was carried

Every secondary school should have a school nurse with the power to prescribe all forms of contraception to children, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Nursing 99
Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe and nurses say they must take practical steps to reduce this.

They want to be able to prescribe all forms of contraception - including the morning after pill - to students from 11 years old up.

The RCN's call - made at a press briefing at its annual congress in Harrogate - follows a BBC Panorama programme which showed how sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, are soaring among the young.

It also showed how some schools are using peer pressure to help children say no to sex and to teach them about non-penetrative sex which will reduce the risk of pregnancy and disease.

The RCN passed a resolution at its congress calling on nursing leaders to lobby the government to address inequalities in adolescent health care.

Accessible services

The RCN Society of Paediatric Nursing, which proposed the motion, said adolescents are a separate patient group and need services that are accessible to them.

"Adolescents are not older children and they are not young adults. A sudden dramatic change hits teenagers. It is a very specific groups in terms of development," said Janet Moldauer of the school nurses' forum.

Judy McRae, another member of the forum, said many young men had difficulty accessing family planning clinics that are seen as female areas and female-dominated.

She called for more efforts to be made to bring men into adolescent health care, such as school nursing.

"Nurses and health care workers and teachers are still female as are teachers. Young males lack role models. We need male nurses to work with adolescents to address the health needs of young men," she said.

She added that some male nurses were reluctant to get involved in adolescent care because of accusations of abuse.

More needed to be done to educate people to help make it easier for male nurses to work in this field, she said.

Mental health

Anne Asprey, another school nurse, said the adolescent health care debate tended to focus only on sex when young people tended to be more worried about family relationships, bullying and mental health issues.

Stephen McSherry, a mental health nurse, said provision for adolescents was "woefully inadequate".

This is despite the fact that suicide levels have almost doubled among people aged 12 to 17 in the last 20 years.

Another problem is that children are being given treatment without consent, despite the fact that consent is legally required for young people over 16 and required for those under 16 if they are judged competent.

Nurses say some young people are being given pregnancy tests without their consent because parents have asked for them.

They want more clarification on consent issues.

Agents of the sex industry

There was condemnation of the nurses' call for the government to allow contraceptive advice to be provided in secondary schools.

The anti-abortion charity Life said it would make nurses "agents of the sex industry".

Nuala Scarisbrick, a trustee of 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.

"That seems very sensible to us and we would violently oppose any change to this."

Family campaigner Victoria Gillick said: "I am absolutely appalled.

"It seems that the adult world has given up completely on the young.

"This is likely to put children in the highest risk category for sexually transmitted diseases which I predict will be the major public issue during the next decade."

She added: "Everyone knows that children cannot take the pill consistently or use the condom properly for any length of time.

"This will not benefit young people. The nursing profession should fulfil their vocation more honestly and take a great deal more time in telling the young to avoid underage sex for as long as possible.

"That is their only role and nurses should stick to it."

But the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) welcomed the demand and said protesters were "a tiny but vociferous minority" who knew how to capture the news headlines.

The BPAS sees 10,000 teenagers a year who are seeking abortions. Around 1,000 are under 16.

"The more access there is to family planning, the less unwanted pregnancies there will be," said a spokeswoman.

"We have to face the facts and not moralise at teenagers."

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