After two years under the pressure of the pandemic, NHS wait times are at an all-time high. With women reporting having to wait months to be booked in for a 30-minute appointment to have the coil fitted. So, is the UK in a contraception crisis?
When Nell Frizzell from the Guardian published an opinion piece earlier this week detailing how a friend of hers had been added to a 10-week waiting list for the coil, the comments were illuminating: ‘I had to wait a lot longer than that,’ wrote one woman on Twitter.
‘The govt is cutting contraception spending by almost a fifth,’ added the Women’s Equality Party.
While many commenters chimed in to make the point that ‘with all due respect there are condoms’, the coil, also known as the IUD (intrauterine device) of copper or IUS (intrauterine system) if plastic, is many women’s preferred choice for contraception, because it’s reliable, affordable and (if you pick the copper version) hormone-free unlike pills, the implant, injections, vaginal rings, or skin patches.
Previously, the copper IUD could even be used as an emergency contraception because if you got one fitted within five days of having unprotected sex, it would be 99% effective against pregnancy. However, women are now waiting for months to have one fitted.
‘I managed to only wait one month to have my coil fitted,’ Freya* from London told Grazia. ‘But I was lucky and went to the Sexual Health Clinic. If I’d tried to get a GP appointment it would have been more like two. But the clinic didn’t even do an STI or pregnancy test first, which really surprised me to be honest. It makes my stomach drop thinking of how unofficial it all felt.’
The story is much the same in Scotland, where 28-year-old Louise* has been waiting for five months to have her IUS fitted. ‘I had the pre appointment on October 11,’ Louise told Grazia. ‘At the time I was assured I’d be put on the list for a clinic in the next couple of months. Obviously, Omicron then became a priority.’
Louise opted to have the coil fitted after nine years on the pill, which she primarily went on to manage her periods and had stopped taking during lockdown. Since the world reopened, she’s been relying on condoms. ‘It definitely makes me nervous about unwanted pregnancy,’ she told Grazia. ‘I know terminations are available in the UK but...it sounds like such a stressful process.’
When asked if her doctor’s practice had been communicative about the delay with her appointment, Louise explained the surgery hadn’t been in contact for a long time and that, after waiting since October and calling to chase her appointment, she had finally been offered a slot at the start of April, which she doesn’t feel she can take because she can’t be in pain during a work presentation later that day. Now, the wait begins again for an alternative appointment.
‘I also looked at the local sexual health clinic, which we’re lucky to have in the city centre,’ Louise added. ‘But their waiting list is almost as long and the whole thing is quite intimidating…especially since there are often anti-abortion protestors outside.’
Abortion, too, is being affected by long wait times, with some women forced to travel for hours to different towns and cities for available appointments. By this Autumn it will no longer be possible to have an at-home abortion, after the government decided to revoke the pandemic change in law, so demand for face-to-face help is only set to increase.
In 2022, it’s questionable how we seem to be going backwards in the availability of contraception and abortions. While the government acknowledged the ‘decades of gender health inequality’ in the UK with the formation of the Women’s Health Strategy earlier this year, little appears to be being done for the women who need help right now.
'All too often our teams speak to people who have become pregnant while on contraception waiting lists,' Simphiwe Sesane, a registered nurse at MSI Reproductive Choices told Grazia. ' Sexual and reproductive healthcare was overstretched and underfunded even before the pandemic and women who were already facing long waiting times for the most effective methods are now struggling to access any contraception at all.'
Grazia has contacted the Department Of Health And Social Care for comment.
*Names have been changed
READ MORE: Are You At Risk From The Gender Health Gap?