SCHOOLCHILDREN as young as 12 are being given nicotine patches to help them quit smoking without their parents knowing.

The patches are given out by nurses employed by NHS South West Essex who visit schools and speak to the children confidentially.

The practice is already prevalant in Basildon with Woodlands School in Takely End receving visits from a nurse twice a month.

Danielle Northcott, 39, of Soane Street, Basildon, moved her daughter Amaris, 13, from the Basildon Academies to Woodlands School in April last year.

She hopes the idea will stop children becoming addicted, but is concerned parents were not told.

NHS South West Essex empolyes health group Vitality to run the service.

Vitality also offers children advice on weight loss and well-being and also issues the patches to children at drop in sessions across Basildon at the Laindon Health Centre, Pitsea Health Clinic, and the Basildon Centre.

NHS guidelines say children as young as 12 can access nicotine patches from chemists and GPs throughout the country, but it’s up to each primary care trust what services they offer.

In Southend and Castle Point there is no such service for school children, but GPs are able to prescribe medication at pre-arranged drop in sessions.

Andy White, headteacher of Woodlands school, admitted NHS nurses visited the school, but denied the school was involved in dishing out the patches.

He said: "I know nothing about this and as a school we are not giving out nicotine patches, it is not our policy, but it might be NHS policy.

“We have a nurse who comes into the school twice a month who is employed by the NHS and pupils can talk to her if they wish to on an individual basis.

“When pupils see the nurse it is on a confidential basis and its a drop in session type service. Parents should always know what is going on and our policy is clear."

A spokesman for North East London NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Vitality service, said: “Encouraging young people to quit smoking may prevent them from taking up the habit longer term, and so it is important they have somewhere to find confidential support for this.

“NHS stop smoking support is provided locally by GPs, community pharmacies and specialist stop smoking services, who are able to offer a range of advice and support on stopping smoking to people aged 12 and over, in line with NHS and NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines."