Over a quarter of councils plan to cut contraceptive services

Women’s access to contraception could be under threat as over a quarter of councils have cut services or are considering doing so, new research from the Advisory Group on Contraception (AGC) shows.

Of the councils responding to Freedom of Information requests from the AGC, 14% said they have closed or will close services providing contraceptive care in the community within the next year, and 13% said they were considering services closures.

Over one-quarter of respondents admitted to putting policies in place to limit free access to contraception by place of residence or age, with women over 25 likely to be denied free contraception despite figures showing an upturn in older women seeking abortions.

Councils were also forced to pass on the cost of contraception to neighbouring authorities, with nearly half saying they would never pay if invoiced for contraceptive services provided for one of their residents by another local authority.

Natika Halil, chief executive of the Family Planning Association and a member of the AGC, said: “Councils are between a rock and a hard place when faced with cuts to public health budgets, but it’s a false economy to restrict women’s access to contraception. Every £1 spent on contraception saves £11 in averted health costs.

“Making it harder for women to choose the right contraception for them will mean more unplanned pregnancies and more abortions. Councils need adequate funding to deliver the comprehensive contraceptive services women need and deserve.”

Under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, councils have responsibility for public health, with budgets due to be cut by £800m between 2015-16 and 2020-21.

Around 7.5% of councils said they would cut their contracts with local GP surgeries to fit and remove IUD and IUS devices in 2016-17, and 24% said the contracts were under review.

Dr Anne Connolly, an AGC member and GP in Bradford, argued: “It’s hugely concerning to see that in many parts of the country contraceptive services are being cut, meaning that women can’t access the most reliable types of contraception.

“Without close scrutiny, I’m worried this trend will only continue – and women will bear the consequences.”

To address the reduction in services, the AGC said that NHS England, local authorities and CCGs should work together to ensure that women are able to fully access contraception in their area.

It also called on the Treasury to conduct a review of the impact on contraceptive services if local authorities were expected to fund public health services through business rates.

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