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Reproductive and Gynaecological Health 2021

Why access to contraception is getting harder

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Dame Diana Johnson DBE MP

APPG for Sexual and Reproductive Health

Contraception is essential – it allows us as women to plan our lives. But for many, accessing contraception is becoming more difficult.


Last September, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health, a cross-party group of MPs and Peers, published a report examining access to contraception in England. We found that women are finding it harder and harder to access contraception that suits them.

There’s no single reason for this. The fragmentation of sexual and reproductive health services has led to a lack of accountability, with no one holding overall responsibility for ensuring women can access contraception. Services have been squeezed by funding cuts. Plus, the pandemic has lengthened waiting lists.

Accessibility matters because it affects women’s lives; without it, accessing care becomes an obstacle course. Women are often bounced from service to service in search of contraception that suits them. Abortion rates are at an all-time high.

Although it’s reassuring women can safely access abortion services, the fact they are doing so indicates a serious unmet need for contraception within the general population. I have always stood up in Parliament for a woman’s right to choose, but most women would still prefer not to experience an unplanned pregnancy in the first place.

The fragmentation of sexual and reproductive health services has led to a lack of accountability, with no one holding overall responsibility for ensuring women can access contraception.

Integrating contraception into NHS services

We have recommended to the Government that, as Public Health England is reorganised, its contraceptive responsibilities should be re-integrated into the NHS, so women can easily access contraception alongside other sexual and reproductive healthcare.

There are countless other opportunities to improve access. Offering contraception within maternity services, for instance, results in high uptake and means that new mums don’t have the additional stress of navigating the system with a babe-in-arms. We have also called for the progestogen-only pill to be made available over the counter in pharmacies, without prescription.

We hope to see these recommendations reflected in the Department of Health’s upcoming Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy, which will be a landmark moment in deciding the future of contraceptive care.

Women make up 51% of the population, and most of us spend almost half our lifetimes trying to control our fertility. We should take this opportunity to improve access to contraception and change lives for the better.

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