Following revelations of worrying gaps in contraceptive services, the sexual health charity FPA is today handing in a petition signed by over 35,000 people in the UK to Chancellor Philip Hammond MP, calling on him to take action to avoid a contraception crisis that could cost the UK billions of pounds.
Paula Sherriff MP commented in support of the petition, saying: "Contraception needs to be accessible to all [...] I’m joining 35,000 others in calling on the government to stop these cuts.”
Yesterday it was revealed by the expert Advisory Group on Contraception (AGC) that more than one in three of the 152 councils in England have closed services delivering contraceptive care since 2015, and a YouGov survey found that many women are struggling to access contraception.
A report commissioned by FPA in 2015 found that continued cutbacks to contraceptive services could cost the UK over £2 billion by 2025.
The survey, commissioned by FPA, asked 1,625 women aged 16-45 about their experiences with contraceptive services, and found shocking gaps in access:
- Almost a fifth of women (16%) have had to wait over two weeks for a contraception appointment
- Almost a fifth of women (17%) said they found it difficult or very difficult to schedule a contraception appointment
- Only around a quarter of women said that a healthcare professional had discussed long-acting reversible contraceptive methods with them such as the implant (24%) and IUD (26%)
- Over a quarter of women (27%) said they felt they didn’t have enough time to discuss all their contraceptive options during their consultation
- A quarter of women have never had a consultation with a healthcare professional to specifically talk about their contraceptive options
One young woman based in London told FPA:
“Once I was waiting until 4.30pm (I arrived at 8.45am) for a contraceptive implant.”
Rebecca, one of the 35,000 UK residents who signed the Care2 petition calling to end cuts to contraception said she signed it because:
“I was recently at a sexual health centre to get my contraceptive injection as normal. I was waiting for almost 3 hours in the waiting room, a good hour and a half past closing time.
"Despite this, the nurse who saw me was extremely friendly and enthusiastic, despite the fact that she should have finished work over an hour earlier. She apologised for the wait and when I told her not to worry as it wasn't her fault, she told me that the centre had been facing 10% cuts every year for the last 5 years, and this year this had increased to a 40% cut.
"This meant that there were only two nurses on in a very busy clinic with more patients than they could possibly face. And still, the nurse was apologetic, kind and friendly. Sexual health staff do not deserve this kind of strain on their jobs, and women not deserve the strain on our bodies when our access to vital sexual health services are limited.”
Laura Russell, FPA’s Policy Manager, commented that:
“From our conversations with women, it was clear that they really value their contraceptive services and the healthcare professionals that provide them. Unfortunately, despite a growing body of evidence that action is needed, the government is not currently placing the same value on them.
“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. 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.”
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.”