The NT Government is under growing pressure to rethink laws requiring health professionals to report all under-age teenage patients they suspect of being s-xually active.

Health and medical experts warn that the measure is likely to discourage young people from seeking health care and to contribute to increases in teenage pregnancies, s-xually transmitted infections and other health problems.

The requirement is part of efforts to improve reporting of child s-xual abuse, but is looking like policy whose consequences were not well thought through — reminiscent of former Minister Brough’s declaration that all Aboriginal children would have mandatory health checks for signs of abuse.

The NT branches of the Public Health Association, the RACGP and the AMA, as well as the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia have all called for changes to the relevant legislation.

The latest issue of Australian Doctor reports that health clinics are flooding authorities with the names of teenagers they suspect of being s-xually active, while some health workers have resigned rather than comply with requirements they consider ethically wrong.

In a letter to the editor, Sydney s-xual health physician Dr Terri Foran writes that when the NSW Government implemented a similar policy several years ago, it was overturned after an outcry.

“Anyone who has worked with young people will know how unworkable this is — the average age of s-xual debut in this country is presently 16,” Dr Foran wrote.

“And this is apart from the fact that an overworked and understaffed Department of Community Services has enough trouble coping with kids who are actually in danger without having to go after those sensible youngsters who have consulted a clinician for advice on contraception and avoiding STIs.”

Dr Foran said the reversal of the NSW policy “meant we could concentrate on the real problems of abuse, assault and coercion of the truly vulnerable kids in our society.”

But the last word must go to Dr Horst Herb, a GP from Dorrigo, NSW, who wrote: “As a GP and father of four teenagers, the insanity of this legislation is instantly obvious.

“Our profession should seriously ponder our duty to consider involuntary psychiatric assessment of politicians and legislators when they are about to cause harm through ideations that are not reconcilable with reality.”

Problem fixed — let’s just schedule the NT Government.


Professor Stephen Leeder calls for some clarity in the private health insurance muddle — join the health debate at Croakey.

Peter Fray

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