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Teenage girls should be given greater access to the morning-after pill in schools and GP surgeries alongside free condoms, according to new guidance.
GPs, chemists and school nurses are being encouraged to offer the emergency contraceptive in advance, under new NHS guidance.
ITV News reporter Martha Fairlie reports:
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which carries out the most abortions in the UK, said "women of all ages" should be able to keep the morning-after pill at home.
Teenage girls should be given greater access to the morning-after pill in schools and GP surgeries, health watchdog Nice said.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, told The Times (£): “Ideally we would like women of all ages to be able to either keep the emergency pill at home or obtain it free of charge from their local pharmacy.”
The call for teenage girls to be given greater access to the morning-after pill in schools and GP surgeries has been criticised, with one pressure group saying that the move would be "a licence for unprotected sex."
Josephine Quintavalle, from pressure group Comment on Reproduction, and Roger Goss, from Patient Concern, told The Daily Telegraph:
The morning-after pill "needs to be immediately accessible" if it is going to help cut the rate of unwanted pregnancies, Daybreak's Dr Hilary Jones said.
He backed Nice's new guidelines designed to make emergency contraception more available as young people "need to be able to identify where they can go".
"What Nice are saying is that it should be available in schools, it should be available in pharmacies, it should be available in clinics and youth clubs and colleges," he added.
Sexual health services need to be easily accessible to young people if the rate of unwanted pregnancies is to be brought down, a health expert has said.
Professor Mike Kelly, director of the centre for public health at Nice, said:
There was a 10% drop in the number of girls under the age of 18 who fell pregnant in 2012, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
Figures released in February showed:
- The number of pregnancies in those under 18 fell to 27,834 in 2012 compared with 31,051 in 2011 - a 10% drop.
- Some 5,432 under-16s fell pregnant in 2012, compared with 5,991 in 2011 (a fall of 9.3%).
- Among under-16s, some 3,251 pregnancies resulted in abortion - 59.8% of the total. This is down on 60.2% the previous year and 62.5% the year before that.
- Figures also revealed that 253 girls under 14 fell pregnant in 2012, fewer than the previous year, with almost three-quarters having an abortion.
Free condoms - male and female ones - should be "readily accessible" to teenage girls as part of a wider programme to better supply under-25s with protection, new guidance has said.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said under-25s - including those under the age of consent - should be able to access emergency contraception more readily, including pills and the IUD (intrauterine device, or coil).
Nice wants to cut the high numbers of unwanted teenage pregnancies across England and hopes the new guidelines will help.
Under the plans, Nice said suitably qualified nurses (including school nurses) and pharmacists should be given the ability to dispense free emergency contraceptive pills in accordance with patient group directions (PGDs).
There are two types of emergency contraceptive pill. Levonelle has to be taken within 72 hours (three days) of sex, and ellaOne has to be taken within 120 hours (five days) of sex.