All young people have the right to access confidential advice. Health professionals will be glad to support you and will be pleased that you’re taking care of your sexual health by visiting them. Although lots of young people worry that what they discuss won’t be kept private, the law is clear that doctors and nurses (including your school nurse) must keep your discussion confidential. Only in exceptional circumstances can information about you be shared with someone else.
Some services exist specifically to support young people. The people that work there are used to talking about sex, contraception, infection, pregnancy and abortion - and will not be embarrassed by or judgmental about what you tell them. Staff working at young people’s clinics will do everything that they can to help and support any young person that visits them.
For the contact details of confidential young people’s clinics in your area contact Brook on 0800 0185 023 or the fpa on 0845 310 1334.
Young people also have the right to receive confidential treatment from health professionals, though the law makes a distinction between those under and over the legal age of consent:
For a young person under the age of 16 to receive confidential treatment the health professional has to agree that the person is mature enough to understand and consent to treatment and that giving the treatment is in the person’s best interests. In medical terms this is known as being ‘competent to consent’. Someone under the age of 16 who has been mature enough to seek help to avoid pregnancy or infection will almost always be judged competent to consent and will be given the treatment they require. Click here to read about accessing abortion when under 16.
On those occasions where a health professional may not consider someone under 16 to be competent to consent, they must still keep the discussion confidential.
16 and over
For young people aged 16 and over, health professionals are not required to make an assessment of competency and the person has the same right to confidential treatment as an adult.
A health professional will only ever share information about you with someone else in exceptional circumstances - for example if they think that you or another young person are at serious risk of harm, abuse or neglect - and that telling another person will help to keep you or another young person safe. Even then they must discuss this with you first.
A young person under the age of 16 who is having or is thinking of having a sexual relationship with another young person of a similar age, who is happy to be doing so, and is doing so free of pressure or exploitation should not be a cause for concern for a health professional. It would not therefore be reason to break your right to confidentiality.
The decision about whether to continue with or to end a pregnancy is a very important one that only you can make. Lots of people find that talking over their feelings with their family is helpful because it helps to clarify their situation and to reach the best decision. Remember though that you must be confident that the decision you make is the right one, because you are the person who will live with it.
If you feel unsure about what to do, or feel under pressure to choose a particular option, it’s essential that you get help and support to make up your own mind. Professionals at NHS young people’s clinics, at Brook, at BPAS and at Marie Stopes will help you to explore all of your options and to reach your own decision, free of judgement or pressure.
Doctors and nurses will always encourage you to talk to your family about your decision in the hope that they will be able to give you the support that you need at this difficult time.
However, the law recognises that some young people aren’t able to talk to their parents or carers - or that to do so wouldn’t be in their best interests. This means that it is possible, though not common, for a competent young woman under 16 (who understands and agrees to the treatment) to have an abortion without her parents’ involvement.
In this instance the doctor will do everything that s/he can to find another supportive adult to accompany her for the procedure and to care for her afterwards.
A young woman under 16 who does not want to end her pregnancy cannot be made to have an abortion.
Clinics that are clear that young people have the right to make and act on their own informed choices will:
Health services which are good for young people may have the You're Welcome award or be aiming to get it.
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