A private company which has taken over NHS sexual health services in Teeside instructed staff to hand out chlamydia tests to family and friends in a bid to hit screening targets, a leaked memo has revealed.

The 1 September memo, seen by HSJ, told staff of the Assura Stockton-run service: “In line with chlamydia screening and current targets, as a team I would like to ask each member of staff to take home five chlamydia screening packs and distribute to family and friends.”

The Royal College of Nursing accused the company of employing a “completely unacceptable way to get the numbers up”.

RCN northern region assistant officer Lin Clarkson said: “Assura only took over the contract from the NHS a few months ago, but if this is the sort of business practice we can expect from them, it does raise serious questions about how NHS services are being delivered.”

A spokesman for Assura Medical said the rate of chlamydia screening for 15 to 24 year olds had increased from 19 per cent to 31 per cent since the company’s limited liability partnership with GPs took over the service.

He added: “Friends and family are not exempt from the need for health education and anything that has the potential to break down the taboo of discussing sexual health issues with friends and family has got to be a good thing for the local population.”

A spokeswoman for primary care trust cluster NHS Tees said: “We were not aware of the internal Assura memo and will be reviewing the appropriateness of this and other health promotion activities as part of the routine contracting process.”