SCOTLAND’S largest health board has hit out at Catholic schools for failing to educate children about sexual health issues.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde warn that young people are being put at risk because of church restrictions denying them access to sexual health services.
The health board say children at Catholic denomination schools are being “disadvantaged” and that policies “degrades the services we can offer”.
But furious church bosses have demanded the NHS board apologise for its “unfounded claims.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde argue that, unlike in nondenominational schools, it cannot provide posters and contact details in denominational schools for its sexual heath services.
It said this meant Catholic pupils have less information about what the NHS provides.
In evidence to a Scottish parliament inquiry into teenage pregnancy, Nicky Coia, the NHS board’s principal health improvement officer, said: “We have no feedback available from denominational schools on what is being taught.
“From our own staff that routinely work with schools, we have an understanding that they can be routinely denied access to denominational schools, or can do so only if key issues, especially matters to do with sexual health and relationships, are not discussed with children and young people.
“We are therefore concerned that the national policy direction and especially the outcomes and experiences for children and young people in Curriculum for Excellence may not be being fully implemented in denominational schools.”
The board also said the church’s position “can appear to be at odds” with equalities legislation aimed at avoiding discrimination against gay, transgender and other groups.
Catriona Renfrew, the NHS GGC policy director, said a survey of the board’s health improvement and school nursing staff had highlighted that “differential practice is required within denominational schools, which, in our view, degrades the services we can offer to young people in those schools”.
Catholic schools in Scotland provide information about, but do not promote, contraception, provide information about sexually transmitted infections and place an emphasis on the value of abstinence outside marriage.
Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said that Catholic schools do not publicise services that could lead to abortion because it runs contrary to the church’s values system.
He said Catholic schools promote the view that all children should be treated with equal dignity regardless of sexual orientation, and that anyone who had an abortion would be given strong support.
But McGrath said added it was “wrong and irresponsible” for the board to imply that Catholic schools provide a lack of information.
He has contacted Holyrood’s health and sport committee, which is conducting the inquiry, to demand an apology “the gravest concerns” about the board’s comments – which he said were misleading.