Teenage pregnancy rates in St Helens are now the second highest in England and Wales following a sharp rise, new figures have revealed.
The latest conception data from by the Office of National Statistics show that in 2017, pregnancy rates for 15-17-year-olds rose to the highest in five years.
The rise comes just one year after St Helens recorded an all-time low of 65 teenage pregnancies.
According to the latest ONS figures, there were 103 teenage conceptions in the borough in 2017, an increase of 58 per cent.
This means St Helens now has a teenage conception rate per 1,000 women of 37.1 – a 64 per cent increase on the previous year.
This is higher than the national average for England and Wales (17.9) and the North West average (21.9), both of which fell in 2017.
Middlesbrough is the only area in England and Wales with a higher teenage conception rate (43.8) than St Helens.
In Merseyside, the average teenage conception rate per 1,000 women is 25.2.
St Helens has the highest conception rate in Merseyside, followed by Liverpool (28.1) and Knowsley (27.6).
Despite the rise, the number of teenage pregnancies in St Helens is still far lower than it was a decade ago. In 2007, there were 183 teenage pregnancies.
This soared even higher in 2008, with 216 teenage pregnancies – more than double the number recorded n 2017.
But since 2008 there has been a steady decline in teenage pregnancies, until a sharp rise in 2017.
St Helens Council spokesman said: “Over time we have seen variations in the numbers year on year, but positively, the overall trend for the borough shows that conceptions are reducing and have done so in-line with reductions observed across England, the North West and Merseyside.
“We anticipate next year that the number of under 18 conceptions to reduce once more to continue the positive trend. Under 16 conceptions for 2017 continue to show a decline.
“Local services continue to strive for improvement and reducing the number of under 18 conceptions is a priority.
“In 2019, working with a range of partners, we will review strategies and develop future approaches to build on what we are doing currently to ensure that we continue to see reductions by delivering services that young people want and that said services are targeted where they are most needed.”
In St Helens, there are a range of services dedicated to sexual health.
This includes a the TAZ (Teen Action Zone) team, which offers a six-days-a-week sexual health clinic service with access to effective contraception and sexual health care.
A sexual health outreach team works with a range of local partners, including schools and colleges, to provide access to free condoms and support.
The council also provides specialised training for staff not working in sexual health services who work with young people.
A council spokesman added that an early help strategy developed by partners across the borough is currently in place to ensure young people in need, get help early.
Despite this, St Helens has still bucked the national trend of falling teenage pregnancy rates, which have been falling since 2007.
Following the publication of the new ONS data, the Local Government Association (LGA) has called on the government to reverse cuts to Public Health.
Coun Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, also welcomed plans to make sex and relationship education mandatory in secondary schools.
“The government’s plans to make relationships and sex education in secondary schools and relationships education in primary schools compulsory will help to reduce teenage pregnancies and health inequalities,” Cllr Hudspeth said.
“It also needs to train teachers and implement a high-quality curriculum in time for its roll-out in September as any delay risks a new cohort of young people facing unplanned pregnancy.
“The government also needs to use the upcoming Spending Review to reverse the £700 million real terms reductions in public health grants between 2015-16 and 2019-20, to help improve upon the fall in these rates.”