The results of a review into contraceptive services in England are a 'damning indictment of contraceptive provision' in the NHS, according to sexual health campaigners.

The Department of Health review, published last week, throws light on the failings of NHS contraceptive services.

The findings show only 7 per cent of the 264 primary care trusts that responded to the survey reported having formal networks in place for community contraceptive service provision.

The results of the questionnaire also show that just 5 per cent of PCTs had undertaken a comprehensive audit of long-acting reversible contraception methods, which include implants and intra-uterine devices.

This is despite National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance that recommends all women be offered a full range of choices in contraception.

Figures from the review show that the average spend on community contraceptive service for PCTs was just over£11 per female aged 15-49. However, the eight lowest-spending PCTs spent between 18p and£1.84 per female.

Of the PCTs surveyed, 68 said they had not identified the indicative Choosing Health funding allocation for contraceptive services for 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Underfunded

Of the 176 PCTs that had identified the money, the review found the 'vast majority' were unable to commit to allocating funds to increase access to contraceptive services or offer the full range of methods.

Family Planning Association chief executive Anne Weyman said the findings made 'depressing reading, but they are not a surprise'.

'As this audit reveals, contraception is an ailing, fragmented and chronically underfunded public health service.'

She said that since the audit was completed in early 2006, the situation had worsened. 'Many PCTs used the Choosing Health money allocated to contraception services for other purposes - this audit should act as an alarm call to all PCTs. They must evaluate their strategic approach to reproductive healthcare.'

Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care vice-president Christine Robinson called on the government to introduce a target for contraceptive services.

The DoH review failed to make any recommendations although it said the key findings would be addressed in the future publication of best practice guidance on reproductive healthcare and would inform the updating of the 2007-08 PCT commissioning toolkit.