People seeking contraceptive care, health screening, or STI testing could be experiencing reductions to choice and care. New research, published by The Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare (FFPRHC), highlights disinvestment by PCTs, poor IT systems and lack of training for health professionals.
The results of the Faculty's Community Contraceptive Services Questionnaire, highlight cuts to out-of-hours services and recruitment freezes, which are contributing to a reduction in patient access, choice and convenience. This is despite the government's insistence that sexual healthcare is a priority.
The main findings of the research, which was carried out within community sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, and in conjunction with the Department of Health's own mapping exercise of contraceptive services, state:
40% of SRH clinics are having to reduce services, either by closing walk-in sessions when full, accepting only a fixed number of patients or only seeing people with urgent problems.
Only four services out of 129 reported increased funding available to implement long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) provision, despite the NICE clinical guideline on LARC, which promotes choice for women through increasing access to quality services providing LARC methods.
Only 5% of community service leads reported computerised data collection across all clinic sites when asked about data and IT systems. This exposes failures within the NHS to monitor work being done within community SRH services, which is inconsistent with the government's Payment By Results scheme.
Dr Christine Robinson, vice president of the Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare, said: "This confirms our concerns that patient care is suffering in community-based sexual and reproductive health services, which are designed to be user-friendly and convenient to clients. They are open during unsocial hours and, in addition to contraception, provide a wide range of services to young, vulnerable and marginalised groups. Disinvestment and woefully inadequate IT systems are restricting client convenience and choice.
"We need urgent action at local level to support community services if patient access, training and quality of care are to be maintained in sexual and reproductive health."
The Community Contraceptive Services Questionnaire is available to access from the Faculty's website: www.ffprhc.org.uk