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Rise in abortions as more than 200 Norfolk women unable to access contraceptive care in lockdown

PUBLISHED: 08:19 28 July 2020 | UPDATED: 08:20 28 July 2020

Women have been unable to access face-to-face appointments at GPs or sexual health clinics during lockdown, resulting in a limited range of contraceptive care being available to them. Picture: BPAS

Women have been unable to access face-to-face appointments at GPs or sexual health clinics during lockdown, resulting in a limited range of contraceptive care being available to them. Picture: BPAS

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Abortion services have seen an increased demand during lockdown as more than 200 women across Norfolk have struggled to access contraceptive care.

Women have been unable to access face-to-face appointments at GPs or sexual health clinics during lockdown, resulting in a limited range of contraceptive care being available to them. Picture: BPASWomen have been unable to access face-to-face appointments at GPs or sexual health clinics during lockdown, resulting in a limited range of contraceptive care being available to them. Picture: BPAS

The coronavirus pandemic has meant many women’s preferred choice of contraception is unavailable - such as the fitting of long-acting contraception like implants and coils.

Instead, GPs and sexual health providers have been prescribing “bridging” oral contraception. The other option is to use condoms - but neither of these are as effective as long-acting contraceptive care.

Norfolk County Council confirmed there were more than 200 women across Norfolk who could not access contraceptive care or whose treatment was delayed during the pandemic.

According to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), this reduced access is likely to be a factor in a 15pc increase in demand for its abortion services nationally between April and July of this year.

In a statement, Norfolk County Council said: “Women who came forwards for contraceptive care during lockdown or whose appointments were cancelled will now have been contacted, and we can confirm that services are now back running as normal.”

According to Olivia Marshall, policy and communications associate at BPAS, while it is “understandable” some NHS services had to close to fight Covid-19, it must now be ensured “the full range of contraceptive methods is reinstated as a priority”.

The Facuulty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare has issued guidance for women seeking abortion or contraceptive care during the pandemic. In line with government guidance, many clinics are continuing to postpone the fitting of long-acting reversible contraception as they avoid face-to-face contact with patients. Photo: FSRHThe Facuulty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare has issued guidance for women seeking abortion or contraceptive care during the pandemic. In line with government guidance, many clinics are continuing to postpone the fitting of long-acting reversible contraception as they avoid face-to-face contact with patients. Photo: FSRH

She said: “We know emergency contraception is more difficult to access in lockdown - both retail sales and NHS prescriptions for emergency contraception have decreased dramatically.

“Many services are still not providing long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) either, such as coil or implant, which means some women cannot access those methods at all even if they currently have one that’s due a replacement.

“Unfortunately these types of care are still classed as non-essential, which means many women have no choice but to switch to another method temporarily.”

However, Ms Marshall said telephone consultations have enabled thousands of women to get abortion care without travelling to a clinic.

She said: “This modernisation of the service via telemedicine has reduced waiting times, and reduced the average gestation in our service from 8.1 weeks to 6.8 weeks.

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“Nevertheless, we know many women are anxiously waiting to have a LARC fitted or replaced to avoid this course of action.”

Not all contraceptive care is used specifically for the purpose of contraception - some women use coils or implants to regulate their periods, heavy bleeding or menstrual cramps.

One woman, who lives in Norwich, said she’d been prescribed progesterone pills to regulate her periods.

She said: “I use a localised hormonal coil as contraception and as a way of helping regulate my periods and heavy bleeding.

“Over the course of lockdown, a combination of stress and depression must have messed them up even more, and my periods seemed to be taking over my life.

“But when I asked for a replacement coil, I was told the fitting procedure was “one of the last things to resume” and given progesterone pills instead - which I really didn’t want to take.

“It’s a horrible feeling because it’s like I’ve just got this redundant piece of metal inside of me which I want out as soon as possible - and doctors and nurses weren’t allowed to do that because it wasn’t considered urgent.”

Another woman living in Norwich said she was told to use condoms after her coil was coming to the end of its five-year lifespan.

She said: “I know the doctors are saying there’s no real risk to you if you keep the coil in later than you’re supposed to, and that the risk of pregnancy is still low, but it’s frustrating not being able to access the kind of contraceptive care I know is right for me.

“It seems stupid having to use condoms because that’s why I got the coil in the first place - to avoid that.”

Dr Anne Lashford, vice president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, said the pandemic has made the need to invest in contraceptive services more important than ever - with the area already underfunded before coronavirus.

“It is estimated that every £1 spent on contraception saves the public sector £9 over ten years, before considering the wider societal cost and impact,” she said.

“This makes contraception one of the most cost-effective public health services.”


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