MPs have warned the government that soem trusts are actively restricting women from accessing contraceptive services, in a new report published today.
In particular, primary care trusts are stopping the over-25s from using community contraception clinics, according to the first inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health in the UK.
Its report, Healthy Women Healthy Lives, also expressed grave concerns about the fragmentation of NHS contraceptive services which lack the effective strategic forward planning required for the handover of responsibility from the NHS to local authorities in April 2013.
Several areas - including Bristol, Derbyshire and the London boroughs of Harringey and Walthamstow - were singled out in for placing restrictions on services.
Some primary care trusts were found to be allowing patients to access some services only via their GP, such as referrals for long-acting reversible methods of contraception (thus eliminating the hitherto common practise of self-referral); or allowing the over-25s to get oral contraception only from a GP, not a clinic.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton, who chaired the inquiry, said: “Many of the restrictions we found during the inquiry shocked us.”
The APPG found there was little guidance and support for local authority commissioners on how to provide contraception services when they inherit them from the NHS in April 2013.
Without this, they concluded, there is the potential to cause real damage to the health of the local population.
The APPG has asked the government to consider its report and publish a response.
Recommendations include: :: Commissioners identified in the report must undertake a review of restrictions and take steps to remove them as soon as possible. :: The Department of Health must publish the sexual health policy that it promised to make public over a year ago. :: Alongside Public Health England, and the NHS Commissioning Board, the Department of Health must give proper and effective clarification on how the mandate of ‘appropriate access to sexual health services’ is implemented locally. :: The National Institute for Clinical Evidence (NICE) needs to prioritise developing a quality standard on contraceptive services, as work on it has not yet begun.
Dr Anne Connolly, clinical lead for sexual health in Bradford and Airedale, said: “Across the country there are a number of examples of high-quality contraceptive care. But what this Inquiry demonstrates is that these standards, and the level of funding available, are dependent on a person’s postcode.
“The current health reforms mean it is vital that, more than ever, PCTs, clinical commissioning groups and local authorities understand how they can commission effective contraceptive services for women of all ages. The Department of Health should accept the recommendation made by this Inquiry and, without further delay, publish the sexual health document.”