Doctors’ “duty of confidentiality” to under-16s

The government has confirmed that young people under 16 should
be able to get contraception, abortion, and treatment for sexually
transmitted infections from the NHS without their parents being

New guidance emphasises that health professionals have the same
“duty of care and confidentiality” towards under 16s as
others, and the duty applies in all settings including schools.

Young people should be provided with the time and support to
make informed choices and encouraged to talk to their parent or
other trusted adult, says the guidance, and the duty of
confidentiality is not absolute. Professionals must take care to
explore whether sexual coercion or abuse may have taken place.

Where the professional judges that there is a risk to the young
person or someone else which outweighs the young person’s
right to privacy, child protection procedures should be

The guidelines follow a high profile case in which an abortion
was arranged for a girl of 15 by school-based health professionals
without the girl’s mother’s knowledge.

More than one in four under-16s are sexually active but are less
likely to use contraception than any other group in the population.
Anxiety about confidentiality is one of the main deterrents to
young people seeking contraceptive advice, according to the
Department of Health.

The new guidance updates advice issued to health professionals
in 1986 following the Gillick ruling, which established that
children under 16 could receive contraceptive advice and treatment
in confidence.

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