Friday, 4 May 2012

Opinion piece in The Times today - should chemists give the pill to under-16s?

There is an opinion piece from me in The Times today, but I know not everyone has a subscription so I thought I’d replicate our view here. There is also an opposing view from Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust. You can read both pieces in today’s The Times – it’s on page 5 of the newspaper - as well as on the online paid for service.

I’ve heard a lot of nonsense over the last few days from people who haven’t been paying attention. Perhaps, then, I should start with what this proposal is not and cannot be. Even as a currently unpiloted proposal it is not about ‘dishing out’ pills alongside deodorant to every 13 year old setting foot inside their local pharmacy. No right minded person would support that, and it is not what is proposed here.

No, what has been boldly suggested is that there may be some pharmacies where it might be appropriate to deliver wider contraceptive services to some under 16s. That’s a long way from some of the hysteria the proposal has been subject to.

The majority of young people under 16 are not having sex and the numbers of 13 year olds having sex remains very small. We know the younger a young person is when they first have sex, the more vulnerable they already are. It is right, therefore, that we make sure those young people get the very best support we can give if they are thinking about or having sex. We must ensure all young people trust and access high quality professional help and the right services when they need to.

Helping young people understand their sexual choices and take responsibility for their sexual health cannot be reduced to a 30 second chat over the counter. There are clear guidelines that any professional considering providing contraception to a young person must follow and criteria based in law that the young person must meet in order to receive treatment. Qualified professionals – doctor, nurse or pharmacist – must talk to the young person about why they are thinking about having sex, whether this is the right time for them, and whether there is an adult they can trust and talk to. They talk to them about their partner, their history, and ensure that they really understand the implications of having sex and using contraception. If the professional feels the young person is not mature enough to consent or understand the treatment then they will not provide contraception.

Extending the provision of the contraceptive pill in some suitable pharmacies to some 13-16 year olds may be one of the ways to improve young people’s access to supportive services, however there are a range of vital safeguards that must be must be in place first.
Brook would want to make sure several key questions were answered:

• Has the pharmacist had appropriate clinical training to ensure the consultation will be safe?
• Has the pharmacist had training in working with vulnerable young people?
• Do they have time to develop a trusting relationship and will the young person feel able to share their concerns and confidences?
• Is there an appropriate, confidential space for the pharmacist to spend time listening to and speaking with the young person?

If we can be sure that the answers to these questions are a confident ‘Yes’ we may want to consider pharmacy provision for under-16s.

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