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bpas finds nearly half of women with unplanned pregnancies experiencing difficulties accessing contraception

Nearly half of women with unplanned pregnancies have experienced difficulties obtaining the contraception of their choice amid greater restrictions on access to the full range of methods, research by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) suggests. 

At a conference in London on Friday, bpas will urge the government to publish as a matter of urgency its long delayed sexual health policy document, and ensure women’s access to contraception and abortion is determined by evidence, not prejudice.

Around 40% of the 3,000 women with unwanted pregnancies who have used bpas’ contraceptive counselling telephone service since last year have reported problems with contraceptive access from GP practices and Contraception and Sexual Health (CaSH) clinics. These include clinic closures, reduced opening hours that are inconvenient for working women, and restrictions on methods available.

Recent comments by women include:

“I’ve been going to a CaSH clinic for years and without warning it just shut down.”

“There are lots of clinics for younger women but nothing for women my age. It’s like they think you stop having sex at 25.” (aged 32)

“My local clinic has shut down – the nearest one is now 10 miles away.

“I had to wait over 2 hours only to be told to come back the next day. It’s impossible when you have a job.”

“I asked my GP for the pill with the 12 hour window for taking it as it doesn’t matter if you don’t always remember on time, which I knew sometimes I wouldn’t. I got given the 3 hour window one [half the price of contraceptive requested]. Now I’m pregnant.”

The findings support a recent audit by the Advisory Group on Contraception on services in England, which found that nearly a third of women aged 15-44 do not have access to fully comprehensive contraceptive services, through community or primary care.  It found areas where the number of GP practices funded to fit intrauterine devices (coils)  had fallen by half in the course of a year, restrictions on older women obtaining contraceptive pills from CaSH clinics, as well as PCTs reluctant to put local sexual health strategies in place until the Government releases its own strategy. It also found that those PCTs restricting access to contraceptives or contraceptive services had a higher abortion rate than the national average.

Earlier this year, a survey by the Women’s Health Forum of the Royal College of Nursing found that more than 60% of those working in contraception reported closure of clinics, reduced staff numbers, and re-organisation of services.

bpas chief executive Ann Furedi said: 

“There has been much government focus on ‘problems’ with abortion services, despite evidence that women receive high quality care when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. At the same time, real and pressing problems with women’s access to the contraception they need to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy in the first place appear low down the list of government priorities.  Policy to guide family planning services, which could help prevent these pregnancies, is now a year overdue.

“Women need access to high-quality contraceptive services that are not restricted on the basis of age or location, with straightforward access to abortion care when their method lets them down. We call on policy makers to deliver a sexual health strategy that empowers healthcare professionals to deliver the contraception and abortion services that women in the 21st Century need and deserve.”

bpas will host Pills in Practice: is abortion and contraception policy meeting women’s needs? at the Royal Society of Medicine, London on Friday May 11th.  See the programme here.