Contraception wait lists grow as Mpox and funding cuts impact services

By Rhiannon Hopley, ITV News Producer

As the mpox outbreak spread across the capital, sexual health services mobilised to help treat and vaccinate people.

London had the highest rate of the virus, formerly known as monkeypox, in the country. 

Despite the increased work, sexual health services did not receive any extra funding for dealing with the outbreak meaning it impacted their usual services.

Now women across London are facing delays in getting long-acting contraception including the IUD.

Laura Cottam contacted her GP to get a new IUD, expecting the wait to be a couple of weeks but was told they could not even fit her in for a phone call. 

"The previous time I got my coil it took literally two weeks so I didn't think there would be any problem. Whereas this time I had a note in my diary a month before and I couldn't even get a call with the sexual health nurse within that time.

"My GP recommended I call the local sexual health clinic to see if they could do it any faster but I never even heard back from them."

There are two types of coil - hormonal and non-hormonal. Credit: ITV News

Commonly known as the coil, an IUD is a straight-forward form of contraception which sits inside womb preventing pregnancy. 

They can last for up to 10 years and are one of the most reliable forms of birth control. 

It eventually took Laura three months to get her IUD replaced:

"At the time I felt like I had no control over my body. I felt like there weren't any other options I could explore even though I tried to . It was incredibly stressful and made me really anxious at the time. I just felt like I was just sat here waiting really. It took three months but they said it could have been longer."

Her story is not unusual. Services vary across the capital but some women are waiting up to five months. Others are opting to get theirs privately because wait lists are simply too long.

Waiting times for coils can be months long in some parts of London. Credit: ITV News

Long-acting contraception can be accessed via a GP, sexual health clinic or hospital.

It is not always primarily used for contraceptive reasons. It can also help manage pain for people with endometriosis and regulate hormones for those going through the menopause. 

There were already backlogs in the system due to coronavirus so the outbreak of mpox came at a difficult time for services. 

A survey by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) found that 73% of respondents in those services saw their wait lists increase due to the pressures of dealing with mpox. In some instances, it meant that other services had to stop.

At the height of the outbreak, 33% of respondents had stopped offering long-acting contraception altogether. 

Dr Janet Barter says women's health is not being prioritised. Credit: ITV News

Dr Janet Barter is the President of FRSH and a consultant in Sexual Reproductive Health at St Bart's NHS Trust. She says that the challenges for women's healthcare are long-running:

"Contraceptive services are funded by local authorities- what that means is we're affected by every budget cut they have. When the pandemic came along we already had years of service cuts."

Analysis by the Local Government Association found over £1 billion has been cut from councils’ public health grant, resulting in a 17% reduction in spending on STI testing, contraception and treatment in the last seven years.

Despite this, demand for sexual health services is rising. 

Dr Barter says women's healthcare in particular needs more support. 

"I do absolutely feel that women's health is neglected. We know that gynaecological waiting lists are not being picked up and moved as quickly as other specialties. Contraception is a human right. If women can't time their pregnancies for when and if they want - that's so basic."

The Department for Health says the government has given more than £3 billion this year to local authorities to support public health including sexual health services.

"We are aware that sexual health services have faced pressures as a result of mpox and have worked under very difficult circumstances.   “The Department of Health and Social Care is working with the UK Health Security Agency, local authorities, and NHS England to support action to maintain access to routine sexual and reproductive health services."

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