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On the map - Gonorrhoea infection in under-16s - NHS pays high price for teen STIs

Most of the statistics we present each week come from education sources. This week, however, our map is based on strategic health authority data and charts the different rates of one of the most common sexually transmitted infections among under-16s.

There are huge differences across the country, with the rate in London more than 12 times greater than South Central region. Even in East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber, the second and third worst areas, recorded rates are only half those in the capital. Rural areas generally have lower rates than urban areas.

Bearing in mind that these are rates for under-16s, the difference may be due in part to whether patients are always truthful about their age, and the ease with which it is possible to obtain treatment without going to a GP.

However, the figures do raise the question of whether relationship education in schools is effective.

A Commons early-day motion tabled by MPs, including shadow Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant and one-time shadow health secretary David Blunkett, clearly does not think so.

It claimed "that the number of sexually transmitted infections amongst young people continues to grow; believes that high-quality sex and relationship education is vital in empowering young people to make responsible choices; and calls on the Government to make provision for such sex and relationship education for all children in all schools."

In a Government set on giving schools more freedom over the curriculum, but also determined to cut public expenditure, the balance between these two objectives is finely drawn.

Of course, home is where young people should learn about relationships and sexual practices. But if it saves the NHS money, wouldn't it be better if schools backed up the messages on the dangers of sexual infections more effectively?

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education


South West 6

West Midlands 9

North West 9

Yorkshire amp; Humber 12

East Midlands 12

South Central 2

North East 6

South East Coast 3

London 25

East 4

* Strategic health authority regions, 2009.

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