We may be in lockdown but that doesn’t mean our routine healthcare needs stop.
Thousands of women in the UK are on regular forms of contraception – in the form of the pill, the implant or the coil – and they probably have lots of questions about which services they can safely access.
The advice is to stay at home, but what about appointments regarding contraception? Should you still try to see your doctor if you need an update, a check-up or a repeat prescription?
We asked Dr Pratima Mehra, a family planning specialist at Babylon Health UK, to answer all of your burning questions about contraception in lockdown.
What should you do if you need contraceptives or you’re having problems with your coil or implant?
‘Your first port of call should be the place you usually access care for your sexual or reproductive health – that could be your GP, or your local sexual health or family planning clinic,’ says Dr Pratima.
‘You should not attend a clinic in person, but make contact by telephone or email instead. If they are not able to help you, they should direct you to other services that can.’
Dr Pratima says your service provider will tell you how you can collect any necessary medication.
‘Most GPs will be able to send an electronic prescription to the pharmacy of your choice for you to collect. Many contraceptive services are posting prescriptions or medication to patients.
‘Contraception is still available free on the NHS. There is no need to “panic buy” – please only order what you need.’
Can you leave your coil or implant in longer than the allotted time?
It has to be an individual decision, says Dr Pratima, and you should really discuss with your GP to ensure that you’ll be adequately protected.
‘Some forms of long-acting reversible contraception are very likely* to be effective for contraception for a year or more longer than is usually recommended,’ she explains. ‘They don’t cause health problems if used for longer, so you may be advised to postpone replacement for the time being.
For example, banded copper IUDs, such as T-Safe®, are licensed for 10 years, but don’t cause health problems if used for longer, and are likely to be effective for contraception for up to 12 years.
Dr Patima adds that 52mg levonorgestrel intrauterine systems, such as Mirena® and Levosert®, which are licensed for five years don’t cause health problems if used for longer, and are likely to be effective for contraception for six years.
‘If fitted after the age of 45, these can be used safely for contraception until the age of 55,’ she says. ‘Contraceptive implants, such as Nexplanon®, which are licenced for three years don’t cause health problems if used for longer, and are likely to be effective for contraception for four years.’
*Any individual queries regarding long term contraceptives/depos should be discussed with a health professional and the patient will be signposted appropriately.
Are walk-in centres still open?
‘This might vary from area to area, but the best bet is to call or check online to see if your local Urgent Care Centre (UCC) is open,’ suggests Dr Pratima.
‘During the pandemic, it is likely that some of them will have been converted into coronavirus assessment hot hubs.’
Alwys make sure you call ahead before just turning up in order to limit the risk to yourself and others.
Should you stop taking the pill altogether?
It may be tempting to just abandon your contraceptive pill altogether, but this should be discussed with your doctor so you can understand what will happen to your body when you come off your pill.
It can also be useful to talk to your doctor about other contraception options.
‘Any decision to stop contraception should be discussed with a health professional first, ideally,’ says Dr Pratima. ‘GPs are still accessible by phone.’
Can you access emergency contraception during lockdown?
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) and Royal College of Obstetricians and
Gynaecologists (RCOG), have all warned that the prospect of an extended lockdown, combined with a lack of access to contraception, is likely to fuel an increase in unplanned pregnancies.
But emergency contraception is still available for women to access through
their local pharmacy without a prescription.
Many high street pharmacies (including Lloyds and Superdrug) offer the option
to purchase emergency contraception for later use. Having the morning after pill in a cabinet at home means that in case of emergency, it can be used within the window that it is most effective (24 hours), without having to leave the house.
There is also the option to buy emergency contraception online from services including ellaOne Direct.
‘I am very concerned that women who might otherwise access emergency hormonal contraception from pharmacies are not presenting and perhaps leaving an unplanned pregnancy up to chance,’ says pharmacist Deborah Evans.
‘It is important that all health needs are supported during this difficult time, and that includes emergency contraception.
‘My advice to anyone who is anxious after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure, is to give your pharmacy a call. We can have a consultation over the phone to help you consider whether emergency hormonal contraception is suitable for you and will manage the conversation discretely and confidentially. If suitable, then you can pop into the pharmacy to collect your pack.
‘If you do come into the pharmacy for a consultation, we may not be able to use the consultation room as social distancing cannot be maintained, but we can find a quiet space in the pharmacy.
‘Many pharmacies are operating a one in, one out policy which means that it’s unlikely that other members of the public will be around and your consultation will be confidential.’
Your sexual health is incredibly important and shouldn’t be neglected because of the pandemic.
NHS services are working hard to ensure that they can still provide care for routine issues, so if you have any queries or worries, don’t hesitate to contact your GP.
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