Massive rise in teenage mothers in Merseyside
TEENAGE pregnancy has exploded across Merseyside and Cheshire, leaving a decade-long government drive to cut conceptions in tatters, new figures revealed yesterday.
The conception rate among under-18 girls soared in Liverpool (up 9.5%), in Knowsley (12.4%), in Sefton (5.8%), in St Helens (6.5%) and, most alarmingly, in Halton (21.5%) in just 12 months.
The increases were far higher than the 1% rise across England and Wales – a figure that, by itself, caused alarm because it followed years of falling teenage pregnancies.
Liverpool PCT described the rise as “disappointing”, and said more work needs to be done to prevent young people engaging in “risky behaviour.”
Dr Paula Grey, director of public health for Liverpool, said: “While there is a great deal of work under way in Liverpool to support the sexual health and teenage pregnancy agenda, it is clear that more work needs to be done to help young people look after their sexual health and prevent early pregnancy.”
It now appears certain the Government will badly miss its target to halve conception rates by 2010, despite millions thrown at trying to ditch Britain’s record as Europe’s teenage pregnancy capital.
The Conservatives blamed the rise on an obsession with sex-education in schools, instead of efforts to give every teenager a “supportive and responsible family”.
But campaigners for better sex education insisted ministers had dragged their heels – pointing out that schools will not be required by law to provide lessons until next year.
Meanwhile, children’s minister Beverley Hughes appeared to blame local health services, insisting: “There is no doubt that rates have come down where local areas have implemented the strategy properly, even in deprived areas.”
The detailed statistics, for 2007, revealed that the number of under-18 girls becoming pregnant rose in every area except Wirral and Warrington, compared to 2006.
Because the numbers of girls fluctuates year-by-year, the most reliable figure is the conception rate per 1,000 15 to 17-year-olds in each area.
It shows that, in Liverpool, 51.6 girls per 1,000 became pregnant (up from 42.1), 52.7 in Knowsley (up from 40.3), 38.2 in Sefton (up from 32.4), 49.2 in St Helens (up from 42.7) and 70.3 in Halton (up from 48.8).
The figures also show more under-18s choosing to have an abortion, particularly in Liverpool (57% of conceptions, up from 50%), Knowsley (56%, up from 45%), St Helens (43%, up from 34%) and Wirral (53%, up from 48%).
Liverpool PCT says that, despite the rise, the figure is a 10.8% reduction on the city’s 1998 figures and Knowsley’s 2007 figures are 1.9% less than in 1998.
A spokesperson for the borough said: “Knowsley is committed to reducing the number of teenage conceptions. New sexual health clinics aimed specifically at young people are being opened across the borough. £40,000 of additional funding is being used to increase the provision of contraceptive services, community outreach and education.”
Dr Dympna Edwards, deputy director of public health at Halton and St Helens PCT, added: “Whilst these figures . . . are particularly disappointing, we have evidence to show that the figure for live births for quarter one 2008 has seen a reduction.”
Juliet Hiller, of the sexual advice organisation Brook, said the figures came as no surprise, because funding was still not reaching the areas that needed it most.
In addition, sex education will not be compulsory in all schools, as part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons, until the 2010-11 school year. THE POST