A school offering health clinics, which can provide contraceptive implants to schoolchildren without their parents’ knowledge, was last week featured on BBC Radio. While the head stressed that sexual health is only one part of the clinic’s role, a parent also interviewed said she sent her children to school to get an academic education, and thought most parents would object to children accessing “various sexual health services behind the backs of parents.” So is school the right place for such clinics? Read more and share your view .
“At schools in Southampton, girls as young as 13 have had contraceptive implants fitted – at school, and without their parents’ knowledge,” said Eddie Mair, introducing an item about ways to cut unwanted teenage pregnancies – a particular problem in the city – on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme (8th Feb).
He said the Department of Health was unaware of how widespread the practice is, as they don’t collate the figures centrally.
Advice on range of issues
Susan Trigger, head of Bitterne Park Secondary School in Southampton, explained that their health clinic is a very popular service offered to 1600 students who can access advice about a range of health issues that they may have concerns about. Sexual health is only one of them, but one which boys and girls may be very embarrassed to talk to their parents or GPs about, she said.
She also explained that the practice of suggesting contraceptive implants was very rare, and might occur if the student had been unsuccessful in preventing pregnancies previously – probably if there had been “repeat failures”.
On the issue of confidentiality, Ms Trigger said that it was the same as if a GP offered advice: “Health clinics in schools are no different to any medical advice, that has to be confidential.”
‘Assault on parents’ authority’
But parent Christine Hudson, whose daughter was at a different school – in Plymouth – said there the nurse offered a fortnightly ‘signposting clinic’ where children could “access various sexual health services behind the backs of parents.”
“I’m sure that most parents would object to this because it’s an assault on their authority, because they are the primary educators,” she said.
“The Department of Health and Healthy Schools guidelines all say that if these services are going to be put into schools, there must be wide consultation with parents. Certainly at the school my daughter was at, there was none,” said Ms Hudson, who also added that she thought if boys knew that girls are on contraception, they would be pressuring them for sex.
‘Open and honest approach’
Headteacher Susan Trigger responded that it was important to involve parents, and that the open and honest approach at Bitterne Park School meant that it had been “highly successful in reducing pregnancies to zero, and across Southampton resulting in a 22% reduction.”
“Parents don’t give permission for their children to have sex either, never mind an implant, and if they try to deny and prevent this, these issues go back underground,” she said.
Quoted in Southampton’s Daily Echo newspaper, health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “The law is very clear that if a child is competent and has the capacity to make a decision herself, the health professional concerned does not have the right under the law to overturn that without consent.”
The Echo reported Mr Lansley saying that all NHS staff could do was advise a child to consult her parents as well as give information about different types of contraception and any risks, and that the NHS had a duty to run a confidential sexual health service.
Should children be offered contraception via school clinics – and without their parents’ knowledge? What’s your view?