Proportion of women in Hertfordshire on contraception fell by more than a tenth following pandemic

Sexual and reproductive healthcare is severely underfunded say experts
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The proportion of women in Hertfordshire on long-term contraception fell by more than a tenth following the pandemic, new figures show.

MSI Reproductive Choices, a non-governmental organisation providing reproductive healthcare, said while Covid-19 added pressure on healthcare services, many of the issues go back even further, with sexual and reproductive healthcare severely underfunded.

Office for Health Improvement and Disparities figures show 46.6 per 1,000 women in Hertfordshire aged between 15 and 44 were prescribed long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) in 2022 – which includes the non-hormonal copper coil, hormonal coil, and the hormonal implant.

Sexual and reproductive healthcare is severely underfunded say experts. Image: Tim Ireland PASexual and reproductive healthcare is severely underfunded say experts. Image: Tim Ireland PA
Sexual and reproductive healthcare is severely underfunded say experts. Image: Tim Ireland PA

This was down from 54.7 in 2019, but an increase from 41.4 per 1,000 women the year before.

Similarly, across England, 44 per 1,000 women had a prescription for LARC in 2022. It was up from 41.8 per 1,000 women in 2021, but remained below pre-pandemic levels of 49.2 per 1,000.

However an MSI Reproductive Choices UK nurse consultant, Simphiwe Sesane, said sexual and reproductive healthcare has been overstretched since before the pandemic.

She added: “A perfect storm of cuts, fragmented commissioning and an ageing workforce moving into retirement mean all too often I speak to people who have become pregnant while on contraception waiting lists. It’s simply not good enough.

“Finding the right contraception is transformative, yet too many are still struggling to get the information and support they need, particularly for long-acting methods like the coil and implant.

“These are some of the most effective ways of preventing unintended pregnancy and lack of access will no doubt be contributing to the unprecedented demand we are seeing for abortion care.”

The figures revealed a disparity between the most and least deprived groups nationally, with the rates at 36.6 and 53.7, respectively – a gap of 17 per 1,000 women.

Ms Sesane said cuts have disproportionately affected the poorest parts of the country, meaning those least able to afford an unintended pregnancy are the most likely to experience one.

In Hertfordshire, around 25 per 1,000 women aged under 25, and 35.4 per 1,000 women aged over 25, cited a form of LARC as their main method of contraception in 2022.

Across England, the proportion of women prescribed short acting combined hormonal contraception in 2022 was 8 per 1,000, meaning it halved compared to a rate of 16 in 2019.

The figure stood at nine per 1,000 women in Hertfordshire – down from 15.3 three years prior.

Dr Janet Barter, president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare called access to all contraceptive methods ‘a fundamental right’. She added care was not structured around women’s needs affecting access to essential healthcare and is urging the Government take action.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins provided updates on the Women's Health Strategy 2024 priorities at the recent Woman's Health Summit.

She added: “We should be able to control when and if we fall pregnant. We have therefore made contraception more accessible through our Pharmacy First programme.

“From December, oral contraception is now available on more high streets, using our pharmacists to their full potential - making it faster, simpler and fairer for women to access this healthcare.

“We will also roll out long-lasting contraception through women’s health hubs.”