The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) has issued a statement which welcomes the publication of annual statistics on Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (SRH) services by NHS Digital, which show a decline in access to emergency and long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), throughout the pandemic.
FSRH notes that NHS Digital data shows a 24% fall in contraception-related contacts with SRH community services compared to 2019/20, with the number of individuals using SRH community services decreasing by 34% in the same period. In addition, FSRH says that the data shows:
- A large fall in LARC prescriptions (IUDs, IUSs, implants and injections) in GP surgeries. The number of prescriptions is now 17% lower than in 2019.
- A notable decline in emergency contraception provided both in community SRH clinics and by GPs/pharmacists. There was a 45% decline in community clinics compared to 2019/20, and a 18% decline in GPs/pharmacists compared to 2019.
- A decline in emergency contraception items provided to under-16s in community SRH clinics – a fall from 4,300 items in 2019/20 to 1,300 in 2020/21.
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Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, (FSRH), said:
"We welcome the publication of annual statistics on Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (SRH) services by NHS Digital. As expected, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a fall in contraception-related contacts in the period.
Despite tireless work by doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to guarantee minimum levels of provision, COVID-19 has hit contraceptive services hard.
Whilst the data does not cover provision of emergency contraception in all settings, including oral emergency contraception bought over the counter in pharmacies, we note with concern the decline in provision in both community SRH clinics and GP practices.
"As our members have been telling us, walk-in services for young people have been particularly affected, with data showing a notable decline in emergency contraception items provided to under-16s in community SRH services.
Despite their best efforts, a deeply worrying trend is also the steep decline in GP prescriptions of the most effective methods of contraception - long-acting reversible contraceptives such as IUDs, IUS, and implants.
It was right and necessary to limit face-to-face appointments during the peak of the pandemic to protect both patients and the NHS workforce. However, GPs were already substantially under-resourced to provide long-acting reversible contraceptives prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the pandemic has only made waiting lists grow longer and longer.
“We urge the Department of Health and Social Care to support the restoration of SRH services in the community and primary care. We strongly call on the Department to tackle immediate and long-standing barriers to equitable contraceptive provision in the upcoming national Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy. This should include actions to end the postcode lottery and standardise commissioning of oral emergency contraception in community pharmacies across England, as well as a review of fitting fees for long-acting reversible contraceptives prescribed by GPs.
“COVID-19 will continue to put unprecedented pressure on public service budgets. We urge the Government to provide the sustainable long-term investment that contraceptive services urgently need."
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