Teenagers are being encouraged to text NHS Wandsworth for sex advice in a desperate bid to stop the rise in young mums.

Teenage pregnancy rates in Wandsworth are higher than the London average and a health committee report said 2010 targets were unlikely to be achieved.

NHS Wandsworth said it was responding by launching a text service, which would allow young people to ask questions about sex.

An NHS spokeswoman said: “Following six months of research with young people, we recently launched txtm8, a new service aimed at 13 to 25-year-olds.

“This sexual health text messaging service has been developed as a pilot in Wandsworth and will be available from 8am until 2am, 365 days a year.”

She said work was ongoing to encourage parents to talk to their children about sex and relationships, make sexual health clinics more young people friendly, giving more training to professionals.

The authority was also working with vulnerable young teenagers in Wandsworth’s more disadvantaged wards – Queenstown, Latchmere and Roehampton – where pregnancies were most prevalent, she said.

Sex and relationship education is due to become a compulsory subject in schools in September 2011.

Hilary Pannack, from teenage pregnancy charity Straight Talking Peer Education, said: “We are telling young people why you shouldn’t get pregnant, while [NHS Wandsworth] is looking at the how not to get pregnant.

“The text is a good idea as it maintains confidentiality, but we think more should be done in Wandsworth schools.”

The charity – which visits schools in Kingston, Richmond and Surrey – employs teenage mothers to speak to other teenagers about the realities of pregnancy, using role-play scenarios, crying dummies and demonstrating how hard it is to live on income support.

A teenage pregnancy strategy, which is overseen by Wandsworth NHS and Wandsworth Council, aimed to reduce pregnancies in 15 to 17-year-olds by 55 per cent in 2010 – compared with 1998 levels.

In 1998 there were 71.1 conceptions per 1,000 15 to 17-year-olds.

Figures for July to September last year showed a rate of 51.3 conceptions, down 28.3 per cent from 1998 – but that figure is still 12.4 per cent above the London average.

A health committee report said: “The increases in teenage pregnancy rates in 2006-07 make it increasingly unlikely that the target of a 55 per cent reduction on the 1998 baseline by 2010 will be achieved.”

For more on the text service visit txtm8.com.

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