Family 'heartbroken' by new contraception service after daughter died from blood clot

ITV News Central's Hannah Ludlow met the family campaigning for more awareness of the symptoms associated with the contraceptive pill...

The family of a woman who died from a blood clot caused by the contraceptive pill say they are 'heartbroken' that women can access the pill more easily without visiting GPs.

From today, millions of women are able to get free contraceptive pills on the high street without having to see a GP under new NHS plans.

This has left the family of Riszka Szymkowska, who died in April 2020 after coming home from work complaining of an achy back and sore leg, devastated.

The 22-year-old care worker was found unresponsive by her partner later that night.

With no family history of blood clots, Riszka was classed as low risk when she was first prescribed the pill.  

Riszka (right) with her stepdad Paul and sister Samantha. Credit: Paul Hadley

Due to her hectic work schedule, she often had to cancel her check ups and went two years without one.

She continued to be given the pill, however, without having any blood pressure or weight checks.

Since her death, the family's GP surgery and the Black Country Integrated Care Board have made changes to ensure those taking the pill in Walsall get regular checks.

The changes include:

  • All prescriptions must be reviewed annually.

  • Patients must be called in to have their blood pressure and weight checked as part of the review, unless they can do it remotely.

  • Patients cannot get a repeat prescription if they have not have a check-up in the last 12 months.

  • Pharmacies in the area must question prescriptions without a review date on them.

In a statement the practice said: “The medical team at St Johns Medical Centre, Modality Partnership, remain deeply saddened by the loss of Riszka and our deepest sympathies are with her parents, family, and friends.

“Following this tragic event, the practice conducted a thorough investigation and reviewed the NICE guidelines for the prescribing of contraceptives.

"The learning from the investigation has also been widely shared with local practices in Walsall to ensure improvements are made.”

St John's Medical Centre in Walsall has changed its practices since Riszka's death, to protect others against the side-effects of the pill. Credit: ITV News Central

These policies are not nationwide however, and the Hadley family have been campaigning, with the support of their MP Wendy Morton, to make regular check ups with a GP mandatory across the country.

The MP for Aldridge-Brownhills said: "The main thing really is making sure that the work around awareness continues.

"I think it's important for the family, and for the legacy, no one wants to go through what the Hadley family have gone through, so lets make sure people are aware of the importance of those blood pressure checks." 

Wendy Morton MP has been helping the family to take their campaign to parliament. Credit: ITV News Central

From 1 December, women in England can obtain a first prescription of the pill by visiting their local pharmacy, without needing to see a GP first.

The government says the move will give women greater choice over where to get the pill and will free up appointments in GP surgeries.

NHS England said it expects almost half a million women to be able to access the pill next year without needing to contact their GP first, with the figure rising after that.

Under wider plans, pharmacists will be offering more blood pressure checks to at-risk patients, with a commitment to deliver 2.5 million a year by spring 2025.

NHS England estimates this could prevent more than 1,350 heart attacks and strokes in the first year.

"My stomach hit the floor"

Riszka's mum, Melania Hadley, stepdad, Paul Hadley, and sister, Samantha Hadley, say the new services are a step back from the safety measures they have been campaigning for, through their campaign 'Riszka's Law'.

Melania said: "You wouldn't take a heart medication without going for your checks to make sure your heart is still working ok on this medication, so why would you just go and buy something over the counter and not be checked that it's suitable for you?

"When we saw the news a few days ago, we just looked at each other, it was heartbreaking. My stomach just hit the floor."

The Hadley family say they will never stop encouraging those taking the pill to get regular checks. Credit: ITV News Central

Melania added: "After all this campaigning we've done to bring awareness, it's like a kick in the teeth.

"Her life can't be for nothing. She was only 22. If this can save one life it's worth it."

Samantha said: "She was my everything, she was my sister and my best friend.

"She was my rock, and it's very to find something else to fill that void that she's left.

"All I have now are the funny memories."

Whilst being on the contraceptive pill does increase a patient's risk of developing blood clots, Birmingham GP Dr Ajay Shah says the risk is still low.

He says there are a number of symptoms those taking the pill should be aware of:

  • Sudden onset chest pain

  • Sudden onset shortness of breath

  • Sudden onset calf pain or swelling pain, particularly if it is on one side.

Dr Shah says anyone experiencing these symptoms should contact their GP.

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