Confidentiality is essential if young people are to access sexual health services

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A survey was undertaken to determine the importance of confidentiality of sexual health clinics to young people, and their preferences for service provision. A questionnaire was given to school attenders in year 9 (age 13–14 years) at four comprehensive schools. Class leaders assisted students with literacy or language difficulties.

Two hundred and ninety five questionnaires were distributed and all were returned (male 143 (48.5%), female 152 (51.5%). In all 199 (67.5%) had never used sexual health services. The importance of confidentiality (asked in two differently worded questions) was rated as 8.84 and 8.59 (mean) on a scale of 1 (not important) to 10 (very important), 166 (56.3%) rated confidentiality as most important feature of service and 254 (86.1%) were more likely to use a service if it was confidential; 161 (54.6%) would not use service if it were not confidential. Two hundred and sixty-six (90.2%) would give honest answers in a confidential service; 186 (63.1%) would not attend if they thought that child protection services would be informed; 136 (46.1%) would not want general practitioner informed of attendance; 209 (70.8%) would like regular sexual health check ups; 150 (50.8%) would prefer a young people clinic, but only 105 (35.6%) prefer a ‘one-stop shop’.

This study shows that confidentiality is extremely important to young people considering using a sexual health service. It is the first UK study to show that if confidentiality is lost, young people may not attend, or may not be honest when they utilize a sexual health service. This is particularly relevant at the moment in light of the threat to confidentiality for young people attending sexual health services.

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