Why are women finding it so hard to get contraception in the UK right now?

There have been “destructive” changes to the NHS that are failing the women’s health sector.

Lesley Regan, the women’s health ambassador for England, has said it is harder to gain access to contraception than a decade ago. This means more unplanned pregnancies as a result, with the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health research showing that 45% of pregnancies in England are now unplanned. This is due to the “destructive” changes to the NHS system in 2012 that are subsequently failing women. 

Professor Regan, who is a leading gynaecologist and women’s health ambassador as of last year, has said that women across the UK have been discouraged by bad experiences including a disjointed system and long delays for procedures like the coil or implant. Her observations stem from the specific changes that were made to the NHS commissioning system in 2012, which isolated GPs from hospitals, meaning the transition left women lost in the system. 

Regan spoke to TV presenter Davina McCall as part of a Q&A in her new documentary We Need to Talk About the Pill. She said to McCall that “if you’re not commissioned to deal with the problem, there’s no incentive to do a job properly … Contraception has got to be everybody’s business and up until this moment it’s been nobody’s responsibility and no one’s been accountable for it.”

“We have to get the funding much less stultified into these silos and say women have to get what they need and then wrap services around them. I don’t see why you need to go to four different appointments to get your HRT, your mirena [coil] changed, your smear test when you could get it all done in one appointment,” she said.

She went on to say that NHS prioritising costs over wellbeing was counterproductive and that they should focus on women’s health as “contraception is the single most cost-effective intervention in healthcare”. Her focus will be to drive the progesterone-only pills (or mini-pills), which already took a decade to be available to buy over the counter and were then made free in pharmacies. The hope will be that fewer women will “fall through the cracks”. 

The government has designated £25 million for women’s health hubs to replace the sexual health and family planning clinics which have been cut. Regan feels that this proposal from the government is merely a “drop in the ocean”, and the focus should be on training GPs properly in contraception. 

WriterElla Chadwick
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