An audit of local contraceptive services in England has found that half of local councils have reduced the amount they have spent on these services in the current financial year, leaving funding for LARC and other methods of contraception facing an ‘increasingly uncertain future’.
A freedom of information request from the Advisory Group on Contraception (AGC) has found that, in 2016/17, 32 local authorities closed contraceptive services, an increase on the 12 that closed services in 2015/16.
Since 2015, more than one in three local authorities in England have reduced, or plan to reduce, the number of sites commissioned to deliver contraceptive services.
In addition, 45% of local authorities have reduced the number of intrauterine contraceptives – IUS and IUD – fitted and removed in general practice, while 29% of local authorities have reduced the number fitted and removed in the community.
The number of contracts in place with general practice is also falling. This year, 15% of local authorities cut the number of contracts with general practice to fit the sub-dermal implant, with 13% cutting contracts to fit the IUS and IUD.
The AGC believe the cuts to services highlighted by their audit will damage many women’s ability ‘to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancy’.
In the report, they added: ‘While local authorities are mandated by law to provide contraceptive services, there are increasing restrictions on both the contraceptive methods available to women and where these services are offered. In particular, access to some of the most effective forms of contraception – LARCs – is becoming more difficult.
‘As the Government proceeds with plans to remove the public health ringfence, funding for LARC faces an increasingly uncertain future.’
Despite the reduction in the number of GP practices commissioned to provide LARC, the AGC found ‘no evidence’ of a corresponding increase in contractual support for community sexual health clinics.
They also expressed concern that, with many practice nurses who are trained to fit LARC due to retire over the next few years, there is little incentive for younger practice nurses to replace them due to the pressures on primary care and a ‘fragmented commissioning environment’.
They have called on the Government to ensure adequate funding is provided to local authorities and GP practices to deliver the full range of contraceptive services.