These Women Have Been Unable To Access Contraception In Lockdown

Photo by Ashley Armitage.
Young women and girls across the UK have been prevented from accessing contraception in lockdown as the future of sexual health services remains unknown during the coronavirus crisis.
A study carried out by Plan International UK found that one in 10 (10%) girls and young women aged 14-21 have not been able to access their usual form of contraception. Twenty-six percent said that the place where they usually access contraception is closed or partially closed and a quarter said they are unsure whether accessing contraception would be an essential reason to leave the house. Meanwhile 8% said they were worried that members of their family would find out they were using contraception.
Sexual health clinics have been shut or are running skeleton services as staff have been deployed to other parts of hospitals to help with the coronavirus emergency, while large numbers of GPs are off sick with coronavirus or self-isolating. While the data shows that accessing contraception is difficult for Gen Z, it remains a common issue among millennials too.

One in 10 (10%) girls and young women aged 14-21 have not been able to access their usual form of contraception.

Plan International UK
Millie-Rose, from Southend-on-Sea, has been unable to access the implant her gynaecologist advised her to get because her GP practice currently isn't running the service. "Before the lockdown, I was on the progesterone-only pill but I started bleeding heavily and experienced severe pain in my vagina. I saw a GP who told me that I should come off it immediately and get the implant."
The 23-year-old says her GP practice is unable to offer implant appointments because they are only allowed to spend five minutes with each patient. "I have polycystic ovaries so I need to be on some form of contraception to alleviate my symptoms. However, I have been unable to get an appointment for my implant and have been told that if my symptoms worsen, I should visit A&E. But I feel that it would have to be really bad for me to do that."
She says she has been spotting for 94 days and still hasn't received an update as to when she'll be able to get her implant. "It has made me feel really out of control with my body. I feel really let down. On the flip side, I feel disappointed for not speaking up sooner. I am one of those people who always tells people to see a doctor, do not put something off. But my concerns over COVID-19 and not wanting to 'bother' my GP delayed me in seeking help."

I have been unable to get an appointment for my implant and have been told that if my symptoms worsen, I should visit A&E. But I feel that it would have to be really bad for me to do that.

Millie-Rose, 23, Southend-on-sea
This scenario is all too familiar for 22-year-old Anita from Birmingham. Anita had chosen to go on the contraceptive coil (otherwise known as an IUD/intrauterine device) and was given an appointment for its fitting on 23rd April. To cover the period between January 2020 and April 2020, she was put on the pill to ensure she wouldn't get pregnant before the procedure. But lockdown meant her appointment was cancelled.
"I received a text message a month before my scheduled appointment saying it was cancelled due to COVID-19," she tells Refinery29. "Even if there were measures in place to attend my appointment at that time, I wouldn't have been able to go because I contracted coronavirus around that time." She adds that she was not given any information on rescheduled appointments, which left her uncertain about what to do.
She's been without contraception since 22nd April and now feels reluctant to become sexually active again until she can have the procedure as restrictions are lessening. "Though I take necessary precautions e.g. condoms, 'accidents' do tend to happen and if there are any 'accidents' I would not be able to go and get the morning after pill for free from my clinic... I would have to pay £26+ for it at the pharmacy."

I received a text message a month before my scheduled coil appointment saying it was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Anita, 22, Birmingham
New figures last week showed that access to the morning after pill had fallen significantly, with retail data sales showing a decline of 50% from March to April, while NHS prescriptions declined by around 20%. Emergency contraception is available for free from GP surgeries and walk-in clinics and can be bought from a chemist following a consultation with a pharmacist.
"Our findings serve as a real eye-opener to the problems young women are facing up and down the country when it comes to their sexual health and reproductive rights," says Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International UK. "Without access to contraception and sexual health services, more adolescent girls will experience unwanted pregnancies and face related health risks.
"The UK and the global coronavirus response must recognise that sexual and reproductive health is an essential health service. It's time to listen to girls and make sure their health and wellbeing is a priority as we move towards an uncertain future."
Dr Anne Lashford, vice president of FSRH told Refinery29: "I believe the pandemic has highlighted that contraceptive services need sustainable investment. The redeployment of staff from already understaffed sexual and reproductive healthcare clinics has resulted in service closures, and clinicians are concerned that some patients are no longer able to access the care that they need."
She added that the reduction in services has been down to the necessity to limit services requiring face-to-face consultation as well as staff redeployment, illness and self-isolation.
She continued: "The COVID-19 pandemic will put unprecedented financial pressure on public service budgets for years to come. In light of this future strain, contraceptive services in primary and community care are more important than ever."

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series