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Sexually active teenage girls are only rarely receiving oral contraceptives from their GP, a new study suggests.

Researchers found only 4.3 per cent of 10- to 16-year-olds were prescribed the combined contraceptive pill by their GP and 0.8 per cent by their family planning clinic.

They estimated overall prescribing rates as 4 per cent among 14-year-olds and 10 per cent among 15-year-olds, compared with rates of sexual activity of 15 and 38 per cent respectively.

The study leader warned that the figures were 'surprisingly' low and that patients were often embarrassed to see their GP.

Sexual health experts warn-ed that there was also confusion on the part of patients and doctors over the rules governing confidentiality in the under-16s.

Study leader Dr James McLay, senior lecturer in medicine and clinical pharmacology at the University of Aberdeen, said: 'We would like to get to the bottom of why uptake is low or why sexual activity is so high.'

Dr Sarah Jarvis, RCGP spokesperson on women's health and a GP in west London, said: 'There is confusion in primary care surgeries about the circumstances in which under-16s can access contraceptive services, which is going to lead to barriers in getting to the people who know.'

The Department of Health updated its guidelines on contraception and treatment of under-16s last year, urging GPs to establish a rapport with patients to help them make informed choices.

The study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (April), analysed prescribing rates in 161 GP practices.

By Nerys Hairon

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