Almost a fifth of women (16%) have had to wait over two weeks for a contraception appointment, a damning report into contraception access in the UK has found.
The study, conducted by sexual health charity FPA, also revealed more than a quarter of women (27%) said they felt they didn’t have enough time to discuss all their contraceptive options during their consultation.
What’s more, almost a fifth (17%) said they found it “difficult” or “very difficult” to schedule a contraception appointment.
In light of the findings, FPA is calling on chancellor Philip Hammond to invest in contraceptive services to avoid a “contraceptive crisis”, claiming if things don’t improve, it could cost the UK billions of pounds.
The survey, commissioned by FPA, asked more than 1,600 women aged 16-45 about their experiences with contraceptive services.
The results highlighted that only around a quarter of women said a healthcare professional had discussed long-acting reversible contraceptive methods with them, such as the implant (24%) and IUD (26%).
Shockingly, a quarter of women have never had a consultation with a healthcare professional to specifically talk about their contraceptive options at all.
Sophie Gallagher, a 26-year-old journalist from London, has first-hand experience in struggling to access the contraception she wants to use.
She said it’s not just getting an appointment that’s difficult, but being prescribed certain hormonal contraceptive pills.
“I have been on Yasmin since I was 17, every time they’ve switched me out for something else I have had terrible side effects, such as feeling suicidal, and so have requested to be kept on it,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Now they won’t give it to me anymore, so I pay to get it from Lloyds Pharmacy. For me, in short, the payment is worth being able to not have the mental health problems that come as a side effect.”
Meanwhile Emma Faulkner, a 21-year-old student, said she’s experienced a “remarkable” difference in contraception services since moving from England to Northern Ireland.
“I’ve been on birth control since I was 14 for various reasons but the nurses I had whilst I was in England had always been very professional and discreet,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Whilst I was still in England I had the implant fitted at my GP surgery. I had a very complicated relationship with it as it interacted with my chronic condition. Once I moved to NI, my GP surgery actively refused to be involved in my reproductive healthcare, telling me that whoever had fitted it would have to deal with it.”
Emma said drop-in sexual health clinics became inaccessible to her as her mobility deteriorated.
“Professionals were very reluctant to try other options due to the ‘cost’ and some were very judgemental when they asked me if I was sexually active, both nurses and GPs,” she said.
“When it came to getting it [the implant] reviewed, it took several months for my doctor’s surgery to agree to remove it which left me for quite a while without birth control.
“It left me feeling very vulnerable and I’m very reluctant to discuss the shortfalls of my current contraception. I hate to think what they would be like if I tried to access the morning after pill if I need to. ”
Commenting on the findings, Laura Russell, FPA’s policy manager, said despite a “growing body of evidence” that women are struggling to access contraception, the government is “not currently” taking action.
“Every pound spent on contraception saves over £11 in costs to the NHS, and yet we have seen repeated cuts to the public health funding which provides contraception services,“ she said.
“This public health funding was slashed by £200 million in 2015/16, by chancellor George Osborne, followed by a Spending Review that set out a 3.9% year-on-year budget cut across public health from April 2016 until April 2021, totalling at least £600 million.
“We hope that Philip Hammond will show he recognises that cuts to contraceptive services are a false economy, and act now to save the UK billions of pounds by reversing these cuts in his upcoming budget.”
Meanwhile Katherine O’Brien, from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), called the statistics “disappointing”.
“While we absolutely must secure adequate funding for family planning clinics, extending the role of community pharmacists and the range of contraceptive methods that they are able to provide could also improve women’s access,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Pilot schemes across the UK have demonstrated that pharmacy-based access to the contraceptive pill is safe and effective, and a recent LSE study also found that the majority of women believe that they should be able to obtain regular contraceptive methods directly from their pharmacist.
“Removing barriers that prevent women obtaining emergency contraception at pharmacies, such as the clinically unnecessary consultation which adds to the overall price of the product, could also alleviate some of the pressure on family planning services and free-up appointments for women in need of a full contraceptive consultation.”
In a statement Dr Jayne Kavanagh, medical director for the Campaign for Contraception, added: “In the year we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Family Planning Act, it’s shocking that women’s hard-won access to contraception is under threat in the UK.
“The government must take action now before the devastating cuts to contraceptive services become impossible to reverse.”