Saturday, April 13

A 10-week wait for a coil? British women are facing a quiet crisis in contraceptive care | Nell Frizzell

When a friend recently told me that there was a 10-week waiting list to have a copper coil fitted, my shock quickly turned into anger. Ten weeks is a hell of a long time to wait for adequate, hormone-free, affordable contraception. To put it into context, that means anyone who had asked for a coil fitting on 29 December – surrounded by Quality Street and the Christmas Radio Times – would be coming up to their appointment just about now. Someone requesting one today might hopefully get an appointment by 18 May. What, precisely, are you meant to do in the meantime? As is so often the case with women’s health, that’s your problem.

We are experiencing a quiet crisis in contraceptive care in this country. Lives are being jack-knifed off course by the kind of policies that are often only discussed in corners, with close friends. Perhaps this was always going to be the result, not just of living through a pandemic, but of living under a government that has continually cut funding to sexual health services. According to a report by the Advisory Group on Contraception: “Going into lockdown, services had faced years of budget cuts by the government, leading to an 18% decrease in real-terms contraception spend since 2015.”

The same report points out that there has also been a huge reduction in sites commissioned to deliver contraception (26% of local authorities cut sites in 2018-2019), meaning people are having to travel further to get the medical help they need, simply not to have an unplanned, unwanted, unaffordable or unsafe pregnancy. I have heard of one woman who was told she would have to travel 93 miles for an abortion, only to turn up and find the doctor wasn’t in, so she had to wait a further two weeks for an appointment in a different city. In the end, the whole process took so long that she went from needing a medical abortion – two pills, taken a few days apart – to a surgical abortion.

Also Read  Elections in France, at war

Talking of pregnancy, you would be excused for missing the significant changes in abortion services over the past few years. For example, you may not have noticed that a large number of abortions are now handled by a charity, rather than the NHS. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) helps, in its own words, “100,000 women a year access reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception at clinics across Great Britain”. I am in favor of anything that makes access to early abortion easier, faster and friendlier. But I can’t help but wonder why such an essential medical service is being handled by a charity. I may be talking rubbish here, but it’s not as if your council tax is processed by Shelter or your warfarin is prescribed by the British Heart Foundation.

During lockdown, BPAS was – after some rather confusing government messaging – allowed to provide “telemedicine” as a temporary measure. Essentially, it was able to send out the pills necessary to terminate a pregnancy following a phone consultation. No need to go to the doctor, no need for an ultrasound. But sadly, as Vicky Spratt has reported for the website Refinery29on 24 February the government announced that it would be scrapping at-home early medical abortions after 29 August. Why this change? Especially when access to in-person services has become harder, thanks to BPAS closing some of its physical clinics after the move to telemedicine. Well, it’s because, as Spratt puts it, “anti-abortion campaigners are more vocal than people who are in favor of abortion”. When it comes to courting public approval – and this government seems to do little else – restraining access to abortion will always play out well with a very vocal minority. As a parent, I would genuinely like to know what the anti-abortion lobby would like us to do with our unplanned and unwanted pregnancies; I would like to know who is going to look after those children and parents.

Also Read  Real Madrid 0 - Barcelona 4: Ancelotti, caótico, rinde a Xavi el Bernabéu

Here is a list of just some of the people who are likely to have needed an abortion in the last year: a nurse; the woman bringing you a plate of beans on toast on Sunday morning; the person who delivers your shopping; the woman who looks after your kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays; the mum at the school gates with navy boots; that woman at the gym who wears a T-shirt advertising an investment bank; your daughter. According to the Office for National Statistics, 25.2% of conceptions in England and Wales in 2019 ended in abortion. That’s just over one in four.

Unfortunately, the stigma still attached to contraception and reproductive health means people are less willing to complain publicly about the huge waiting times, the travel costs and the difficulty they face in accessing contraception and abortion. Subtly and overtly, we are told that this is our lot and we must bear it. After all, there are plenty of people out there ready to whip our reproductive rights out from under us. Which makes it easier for government to keep cutting funding. Continually making small slices, from every side, scraping bits off with a fingernail, breaking off whole corners, then putting it back in the fridge, hoping nobody notices that it is now half the size it should be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *