People have the right to be involved in discussions and make informed decisions about their care, as described in NICE's information on making decisions about your care.

Making decisions using NICE guidelines has information about prescribing medicines (including off-label use), professional guidelines, standards and laws (including on consent and mental capacity), and safeguarding.

The guidance complements, but does not replace, NICE's guidelines on long-acting reversible contraception, looked after children and reducing sexually transmitted infections.

The evidence statements underpinning the recommendations are listed in appendix C.

The Programme Development Group (PDG) considers that the recommended measures are cost effective.

Recommendations for research are available.

See also the full evidence reviews, supporting evidence statements and economic modelling report.


The recommendations advocate providing information and advice on all types of contraception. The aim is to help young men and women choose the method that best suits their individual needs and lifestyle, so making it more likely that they will use contraception and use it effectively. The information should comprise verbal advice and printed material giving details about the:

  • full range of contraceptive methods available, but with a focus on the most effective and appropriate choice for the individual concerned

  • benefits and risks of each method and how to manage any side effects.


For the purposes of this guidance young men and women refers to everyone aged under 25 who is competent to consent to contraceptive treatment under the Department of Health's best practice guidance for doctors and other health professionals on the provision of advice and treatment to young people under 16 on contraception, sexual and reproductive health. This guidance states: 'A doctor or health professional is able to provide contraception, sexual and reproductive health advice and treatment, without parental knowledge or consent, to a young person aged under 16, provided that:

  • she/he understands the advice provided and its implications

  • her/his physical or mental health would otherwise be likely to suffer and so provision of advice or treatment is in their best interest.'

In addition, it is considered good practice for doctors and other health professionals to follow the criteria outlined by Lord Fraser in 1985, commonly known as the Fraser Guidelines:

  • the young person understands the health professional's advice

  • the health professional cannot persuade the young person to inform his or her parents or allow the doctor to inform the parents that he or she is seeking contraceptive advice

  • the young person is very likely to begin or continue having intercourse with or without contraceptive treatment

  • unless he or she receives contraceptive advice or treatment, the young person's physical or mental health or both are likely to suffer

  • the young person's best interests require the health professional to give contraceptive advice, treatment or both without parental consent.

Note: some of the recommendations, for example those on information provision, may also be relevant to young people who are not competent to consent to treatment.

The recommendations are based on interventions and programmes proven to be effective with all young people aged under 25. They emphasise the need for services that are universal and inclusive. They also emphasise the need to offer additional tailored support to meet the particular needs and choices of those who are socially disadvantaged or who may find it difficult to use contraceptive services. (The latter might include those who are members of some faith and religious groups.) The guidance is based on the principle of progressive universalism (Fair society, healthy lives: strategic review of health inequalities in England post-2010).

For the purposes of this guidance 'socially disadvantaged young people' may include those who are:

  • living in a deprived area

  • from a minority ethnic group (including gypsy and traveller communities)

  • refugees, asylum seekers and people recently arrived in the UK

  • teenage parents or the children of teenage parents

  • looked after or leaving care

  • excluded from school or do not attend regularly or have poor educational attainment

  • unemployed or not in education or training

  • homeless

  • living with mental health problems

  • living with physical or learning disabilities

  • living with HIV or AIDS

  • substance misusers (including alcohol misusers)

  • criminal offenders.

Contraceptive services refers to the whole range of contraceptive, sexual and reproductive health services. This includes services:

  • in primary care

  • offered by community, education and pharmacy outlets (commissioned by local authorities from the NHS, the private or voluntary sectors)

  • commissioned by clinical commissioning groups (for example, termination of pregnancy [abortion] services)

  • commissioned by the NHS Commissioning Board (for example, contraceptive services provided within other specialist services, such as maternity services).

Recommendation 1 Assessing local need and capacity to target services

Whose health will benefit?

All young women and men aged up to 25.

Who should take action?

  • Health and wellbeing boards, local authority commissioners and other commissioners of young people's services.

  • Directors of public health and directors of children's services.

  • Those responsible for joint strategic needs assessment, data collection and analysis in local authorities, children's services and their partners.

  • Managers of contraceptive services in primary and acute care, the voluntary and private sectors.

  • Public health practitioners with a responsibility for contraception and sexual health.

  • Those responsible for young people's advisory services.

What action should they take?

  • Directors of public health, public health practitioners and public health surveillance systems should collect and analyse anonymised regional and local demographic data and information on local contraception and sexual health inequalities. In conjunction with sexual health leads in the NHS and local authorities, they should disseminate the data to inform local strategic needs assessments, so that resources and services can be provided for those with the greatest need.

  • Commissioners, with support from members of local public health networks, should use anonymised local health data and routinely collected surveillance data on, for example, conceptions, abortions, births and contraceptive prescribing, to identify local needs. These data could be geographical or in relation to specific population groups.

  • Health and wellbeing boards, including directors of public health, local public health leads and local authorities, should carry out and publish the results of comprehensive joint strategic needs assessments for young people's contraceptive services. This should include details on socially disadvantaged young people.

  • Map the current range of local services, service activity levels and capacity across all contraceptive service providers. (Take account of services further afield that may be used by local young people, for example, large pharmacies in nearby town centres.) The mapping should include, but should not be limited to:

    • services provided by GPs, community contraceptive clinics, paediatricians, pharmacies, the voluntary sector and within schools and colleges

    • 'out of hours' (evening and weekend) and outreach provision

    • staffing levels and the range of professional skills available (including for GP practices)

    • the size of premises, location, opening hours and accessibility.

  • Use the data to develop an action plan setting out organisational responsibilities for local services for young people, including those who are socially disadvantaged. Ensure provision is at times and in locations that meet young people's needs.

  • Regularly evaluate services in the context of this guidance and changing local needs. Use local accountability mechanisms (for example, health scrutiny reports) to examine specific issues.

  • Ensure the mapping process involves young women and men, including those who are socially disadvantaged, in assessing the need for services (including the type of services needed, opening hours and location).

  • Involve young men and women, including those who are socially disadvantaged, in planning, monitoring and evaluating services.

Recommendation 2 Commissioning coordinated and comprehensive services

Whose health will benefit?

All young women and men aged up to 25.

Who should take action?

  • Health and wellbeing boards and commissioners in local authorities and clinical commissioning groups with responsibility for hospital, community, education-based and primary care contraceptive services.

  • Primary care, maternity and young people's services and pharmacies.

  • Contraceptive services provided by NHS, voluntary and private sector organisations.

What action should they take?

  • Identify priorities and targets based on local need, using tools such as health equity audit and equality impact assessment.

  • Use Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) indicators and other arrangements and processes to improve the uptake of effective methods of contraception, as appropriate.

  • Establish collaborative, evidence-based commissioning arrangements between different localities to ensure comprehensive, open-access services are sited in convenient locations, such as city centres, or near to colleges and schools. Ensure no young person is denied contraceptive services because of where they live.

  • Provide contraceptive services within genitourinary medicine and sexual health clinics, either as part of that clinic's services or by hosting contraceptive services provided by another organisation.

  • Ensure all contraceptive services (including those provided in general practice) meet, as a minimum requirement, the Department of Health's you're welcome quality criteria. They should also meet the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare service standards for sexual and reproductive healthcare and follow their clinical guidance on contraceptive choices for young people.

  • Develop joint commissioning of needs-led contraceptive services for young people. This should include coordinated and managed service networks. It should also include comprehensive referral pathways that include abortion, maternity, genitourinary medicine, pharmacy and all other relevant health, social care and children's services. Referral pathways should also cover youth and community services, education, and services offered by the voluntary and private sectors.

  • Ensure pharmacies, walk-in centres and all organisations commissioned to provide contraceptive services (including those providing oral emergency contraception) maintain a consistent service. If this is not possible, staff should inform young people, without having to be asked, about appropriate alternative, timely and convenient services providing oral emergency contraception.

Recommendation 3 Providing contraceptive services for young people

Whose health will benefit?

All young women and men aged up to 25.

Who should take action?

Managers, doctors, midwives, nurses, pharmacists, receptionists and other staff working in contraceptive services, including those offered in education, GP services, pharmacies, maternity and postnatal care services, walk-in centres, acute and emergency care, and the voluntary and private sectors.

What action should they take?

  • Ensure young people have access, without delay, to confidential, dedicated young people's contraceptive services that, as a minimum requirement, meet the quality criteria set out in recommendation 2.

  • Doctors, nurses and pharmacists should:

    • offer culturally appropriate, confidential, non-judgmental, empathic advice and guidance according to the needs of each young person

    • set aside adequate consultation time to encourage young people to make an informed decision, according to their needs and circumstances

    • provide information about the full range of contraceptives available, including emergency contraception (both oral and intrauterine) and long-acting reversible contraception (LARC; also referred to as lasting and reliable contraception), and the benefits and side effects

    • offer advice on the most effective methods and how to use them effectively and consistently

    • if possible, provide the full range of contraceptive methods, including LARC, condoms to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and emergency contraception (both oral and intrauterine). If this is not possible, provide contraception to meet immediate needs and provide access to services that can offer advice and timely provision of the full range of methods

    • provide free and confidential pregnancy testing with same-day results and, if appropriate, offer counselling or information about where to obtain free counselling

    • assess the risk of an STI, advise testing if appropriate, and provide information about local STI services.

  • Service managers, with the support of doctors, nurses and other staff, should offer services that:

    • are flexible, for example, offer out-of-hours services at weekends and in the late afternoon and evening

    • are available both without prior appointment (drop-in) and by appointment in any given area

    • provide appointments within 2 working days

    • strive to ensure that scheduled appointments run on time and that the waiting time for drop-in consultations is less than 60 minutes

    • inform young people about the amount of time they can expect to wait

    • provide accurate information about opening times and make it clear whether they operate on a drop-in or appointment basis, or a mix of both

    • are open to young people aged under 16 who present for any service without a parent or carer.

  • Service managers, doctors, nurses, receptionists, pharmacists and other staff should promote contraceptive services (including those that provide both oral and intrauterine emergency contraception) to young people. They should encourage both young men and women to use them by:

    • providing clear information on all local services in a range of formats that appeal to young people, including leaflets, posters and other formats that are accessible for those with sensory impairments and learning disabilities, with low levels of literacy, or whose English may be poor

    • advertising them through the local media, the Internet (for example, via social networking sites), local and community networks (for example, youth services and youth inclusion projects), schools, colleges and other education settings

    • working with school and college governors, head teachers, college principals and personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education lead teachers.

Recommendation 4 Tailoring services for socially disadvantaged young people

Whose health will benefit?

Socially disadvantaged young people aged up to 25.

Who should take action?

Service managers and staff working in contraceptive services. This includes doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

What action should they take?

  • Provide additional support for socially disadvantaged young people to help them gain immediate access to contraceptive services and to support them, as necessary, to use the services. This could include providing access to trained interpreters or offering one-to-one sessions. It could also include introducing special facilities for those with physical and sensory disabilities and assistance for those with learning disabilities.

  • Encourage and help young mothers (including teenage mothers) to use contraceptive services, for example, by working with family nurse partnerships or children's centres.

  • Offer support and referral to specialist services (including counselling) to those who may need it. For example, young people who misuse drugs or alcohol and those who may have been (or who may be at risk of being) sexually exploited or trafficked may need such support. The same is true of those who have been the victim of sexual violence.

  • Provide outreach contraceptive services that offer information, advice, and the full range of options. This includes provision for those living in rural areas who cannot reach existing clinics and services.

  • Offer culturally appropriate, confidential, non-judgmental, empathic advice and support tailored to the needs of the young person. Tailored support might involve, for example, providing relevant information in small manageable amounts, checking whether it has been understood, and reiterating and revising information if required. It could also include using more pictures and diagrams than text.

Recommendation 6 Providing contraceptive services after a pregnancy

Whose health will benefit?

Young women aged up to 25 who are pregnant, or who have recently been pregnant, and their partners.

Who should take action?

  • Midwives, obstetricians and all those working in maternity and postnatal care services.

  • GPs, health visitors, pharmacists, school nurses and other health professionals working in contraceptive services, primary and community services, family nurse partnerships and acute and emergency care.

What action should they take?

  • Midwives should discuss with pregnant women what type of contraception they intend to use after their pregnancy. They should provide information on the full range of options and should advise them (and their partners, if appropriate) on an effective method that best meets their needs. They should also provide information on how and where to obtain it.

  • After pregnancy, midwives should check that women have chosen a method of contraception. If not, they should offer contraceptive advice on a range of effective methods tailored to the woman's circumstances and sensitive to any concerns she may have. This includes advice on contraception for women who are breastfeeding, in accordance with guidance from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (see Postnatal Sexual and Reproductive Health). They should discuss the benefits and risks of different methods so that those who are breastfeeding are able to continue.

  • Midwives should provide women with the contraceptive they want before they are discharged from midwifery services. If this is not possible, they should offer a referral to contraceptive services.

  • Health visitors, family nurse practitioners and health professionals working with new mothers should check that women have been given advice on contraception and do have contraceptives. If not, they should help them obtain information and advice so that they can choose and receive effective and appropriate contraceptives. Where necessary, they should consider using outreach or home services to provide this support.

Recommendation 7 Providing contraceptive services after an abortion

Whose health will benefit?

Young women aged up to 25 who have had an abortion and their partners.

Who should take action?

  • GPs and other primary care practitioners.

  • Contraceptive services.

  • Abortion services (including those providing early medical abortion).

  • Counsellors working with abortion services.

What action should they take?

  • Before – and as soon as possible after – an abortion, discuss contraception and explain the full range of contraceptive methods available. Help young women and their partners identify and obtain the most effective method that best meets their needs. Dispel the myth that there is no need for contraception after an abortion and explain that women are fertile immediately following an abortion.

  • Provide contraception to prevent another unintended pregnancy or refer them to contraceptive services for advice and contraception. If appropriate, offer counselling.

  • If the young woman does not want to be referred on, offer to contact her after her abortion to give advice on the most effective and suitable method of contraception for her, using a communication method of her choice (for example, text messages). Also consider using outreach or home services to provide information and contraceptives.

Recommendation 8 Providing school and education-based contraceptive services

Whose health will benefit?

Young people up to age 25 who are of school age or in education.

Who should take action?

  • Nurses, doctors and counsellors working in contraceptive services within, or associated with, schools, sixth form and further education colleges, universities and other education‑based settings. This includes short-stay schools and young offender institutes.

  • Governors, head teachers, teachers, student welfare officers and youth workers in schools, principals and tutors in sixth form and further education colleges and universities and staff in short-stay schools and young offender institutes.

What action should they take?

  • Involve young people in the design, implementation, promotion and review of on-site and outreach contraceptive services in and near schools, colleges and other education settings.

  • School nurses, doctors and counsellors working with young people in schools, colleges and universities should conform to health service standards of confidentiality and to those set by their professional body. All young people should be made aware that one-to-one consultations with them will be confidential, except under the provisions made by law, for example, in relation to child protection.

  • Ensure accurate and up-to-date contraceptive advice, information and support is readily available to all young women and men. Information on the location and hours of local services should be available outside designated clinic hours.

  • Ensure contraceptive advice, free and confidential pregnancy testing and the full range of contraceptive methods, including both LARC and emergency contraception, is easily available. If the full range is not available, offer prompt and easy referral to appropriate local contraceptive services outside the school or college.

  • Ensure continuity of service, for example by making it clear to young people when and where local services are available during school, college or university holidays.

  • Ensure services not only provide contraceptives but are staffed by people trained to be respectful and non-judgmental. They should also be trained to help young men and women identify, choose and use contraception that is the most appropriate for them.

Recommendation 9 Providing emergency contraception

Whose health will benefit?

Young women up to the age of 25.

Who should take action?

Managers, doctors, nurses (including school nurses), pharmacists and reception staff working in: contraceptive services, schools, primary and community care, acute and emergency services, pharmacies, maternity services, walk-in centres and voluntary and private sector health services.

What action should they take?

  • Establish patient group directions (PGDs) and local arrangements to ensure all young women can easily obtain free oral emergency contraception. (Patient group directions enable suitably qualified nurses and pharmacists to dispense specific medicines in specific circumstances. See NICE's guideline on patient group directions.)

  • Ensure young women (and young men) know where to obtain free emergency contraception.

  • Inform young women that an intrauterine device is a more effective form of emergency contraception than the oral method and can also be used on an ongoing basis.

  • Ensure young women have timely access to emergency contraception using an intrauterine device.

  • Ensure young women who are given oral emergency contraception are:

    • advised that this needs to be used as soon as possible after sex and that it is only effective if taken within a limited time

    • advised that other methods are more effective and reliable as a primary method of contraception

    • encouraged to consider and choose a suitable form of contraception for their future needs

    • referred to, or given clear information about, local contraceptive services

    • offered immediate referral for an intrauterine device, if they choose this method

    • advised where they can obtain a free, confidential pregnancy test with same-day results.

  • Ensure all health professionals providing oral emergency contraception are aware that they can provide this to young women aged under 16 without parental knowledge or consent, in accordance with best practice guidance (Department of Health's best practice guidance for doctors and other health professionals on the provision of advice and treatment to young people under 16 on contraception, sexual and reproductive health). Also ensure they are aware that they have a duty of care and confidentiality to young people under the age of 16.

  • Health professionals, including pharmacists, who are unwilling (or unable) to provide emergency contraception should give young women details of other local services where they can be seen urgently.

  • Ensure arrangements are in place to provide a course of oral emergency contraception in advance, in specific circumstances where the regular contraceptive method being used, for example condoms or the pill, is subject to 'user failure'. (Methods where there can be 'user failure' are those that the user has to think about regularly or each time they have sex and which must be used according to instructions, such as condoms or the pill.)

Recommendation 10 Providing condoms in addition to other methods of contraception

Whose health will benefit?

All young men and women up to the age of 25.

Who should take action?

  • Managers and staff working in contraceptive services (including GP services, pharmacies, maternity services, walk-in centres, acute and emergency care), the voluntary and private sector.

  • Practitioners with a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of young people in social care and children's services and the voluntary and private sector. This includes social care professionals, workers in drug and alcohol services, youth workers and counsellors, and people involved with condom distribution schemes.

  • Public health specialists, PSHE education and sex and relationships education teachers, and all others who provide information about contraception and sexual and reproductive health.

What action should they take?

  • Advise all young people to use condoms consistently and correctly in addition to other contraception. Condoms should always be provided along with other contraception because they help prevent the transmission of STIs.

  • Advise them to use a water-based lubricant with a condom if they want or need a lubricant.

  • Ensure free condoms (including female condoms) are readily accessible (this could include, for example, at schools, colleges and youth clubs).

  • Ensure information and advice on using condoms is available at all condom distribution points and, where possible, young people should be shown how to use them correctly.

  • When providing condoms, offer information about emergency contraception and other contraceptive services, including when, where and how to access them locally.

Recommendation 11 Communicating with young people

Whose health will benefit?

Young people up to the age of 25 who use contraceptive services or who might need information on contraception.

Who should take action?

  • Commissioners and providers of contraceptive services.

  • Information service providers including, for example, libraries, job centres, schools, colleges and youth services.

What action should they take?

  • Use a range of methods, including the latest communication technologies, to provide young people, especially socially disadvantaged young people, with advice on sexual health and contraception. This could include using:

    • bespoke websites or dedicated pages on social networking sites which enable young people to discuss sensitive issues anonymously

    • online NHS information such as the NHS your contraception guide

    • websites provided by specialist service providers such as Brook or FPA that provide reliable, up-to-date, evidence-based health information and advice (schools and colleges should ensure their firewalls do not block these websites)

    • telephone helplines offering up-to-date and accurate information and details about local services – for example, 'Ask Brook'. These should, where possible, use local numbers that qualify for free calls as part of many mobile phone contracts.

  • Wherever possible, ensure schools, colleges, youth clubs and other places that young people visit have up-to-date and accessible information on contraceptive methods and local services.

  • Ensure information is available in a range of formats. For example, it should be available in languages other than English, in large print, or text relay (for those who are deaf or hard of hearing). It should also be distributed via a range of media, for example, via mobile phones (text messaging or calls) or emails. (Practitioners should be mindful of confidentiality when using these media.)

  • Involve young people in the design of any media and distribution strategies.

Recommendation 12 Training and continuing professional development

Whose health will benefit?

Young people up to the age of 25 who use contraceptive services or who might need information on contraception.

Who is the target population?

  • Doctors, midwives, nurses, pharmacists, and other health professionals who provide contraceptive services.

  • Managers and staff working in, or involved with, young people's contraceptive services.

Who should take action?

  • Commissioners and managers of young people's contraceptive services.

  • Primary and community care services, children's services, social services and young people's advisory and support services.

  • Royal colleges and professional associations, further and higher education training boards, and organisations responsible for setting competencies and developing continuing professional development programmes for health professionals, healthcare assistants and support staff.

What action should they take?

  • Managers should ensure all doctors, midwives, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals working in contraceptive services have received the post-registration training required by their professional body. They should also have evidence to show that they are maintaining their skills and competencies.

  • Health professionals (including pharmacists) who advise young people about contraception should be competent to help them compare the risks and benefits of the different methods, according to their needs and circumstances. They should also be able to help them understand and manage any common side effects. (This is an edited extract from NICE's guideline on long-acting reversible contraception.)

  • Colleges and training organisations should ensure doctors and nurses offering contraceptive services have easy, prompt access to pre- and post-registration theoretical and practical training in all methods of contraception. This includes intrauterine devices and systems and contraceptive implants.

  • Ensure all support staff who may come into contact with young people, particularly socially disadvantaged young people, are experienced in working with them. This includes being able to communicate with those who have physical or learning disabilities. It also includes being aware of, and sensitive to, the needs of young people from different ethnic and faith communities in relation to contraception.

  • Ensure all support staff who work in contraceptive services with young people receive both formal and on-the-job training in how to offer basic information and advice about contraception. They should be aware of the range of methods available, the advantages and disadvantages of each method, and the measures that can be taken to manage any side effects. Training should be regularly updated and tailored to individual needs to ensure staff have the skills and knowledge relevant for their role.

  • Ensure all staff working for contraceptive services for young people, including administrative staff, know about the duty of confidentiality and child protection processes and legislation. They should be trained in the Department of Health's best practice guidance for doctors and other health professionals on the provision of advice and treatment to young people under 16 on contraception, sexual and reproductive health. They should also be aware of local mechanisms for reporting concerns relating to safeguarding policy and procedures.

  • Ensure all staff are aware of local contraceptive service referral pathways so that they know how to direct young people to the services they need – whether it is for advice on, or the provision of, contraceptives (including condoms and emergency contraception) or abortion services.