A scheme encouraging schoolgirls as young as 11 to request the morning-after pill by text message is to be expanded.
After an initial trial among six secondary schools, Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) hopes to roll out the scheme across the county.
The scheme, which allows schoolgirls to text requests for the morning-after pill to a school nurse who can then supply the pill during breaktime, has been roundly criticised.
Family values campaigners say that making the morning-after pill more widely available encourages promiscuity among teenagers and that plans to expand the scheme “beggar belief”.
The service was launched earlier this year after Oxfordshire saw a sharp rise in pregnancies among girls aged 18 and under.
Under the scheme parents are not automatically informed of their daughters’ requests for the morning-after pill, but child protection staff are alerted if a girl aged under 13 uses the service.
Oxfordshire PCT’s children’s services manager, Alex Hammond, said take-up of the service had been lower than hoped but that the trust still wanted to offer it to more pupils in more schools.
She said: “We’re considering taking it out to other schools but we’re not going to do this without full consultation with the schools.
“If a young person were to text in to request emergency contraceptives they would be offered a face-to-face appointment for a full clinical assessment with one of the nurses before a decision was made about whether to give it (the morning-after pill) or not.”
The PCT is also hoping for wider promotion of the scheme, perhaps by using Facebook, the social networking website popular with teenagers.
Norman Wells, director of Family and Youth Concern, said: “It really does beggar belief that the PCT is determined to expand a service for which there is no demand and where there is no evidence that it would reduce teenage pregnancy rates.
“There’s evidence that making the morning-after pill available to underage girls in strict confidence may be making matters worse by encouraging some girls to become sexually active when they might not otherwise have done so.”
Details of the expansion, such as how much it will cost and how many extra schools will be involved, are yet to be decided.
The PCT has said the cost will be covered by an extra £320,000 of funds it received in the 2008-9 budget to increase the provision of school nursing services in Oxford and Banbury.