There are concerns women are at risk of unwanted pregnancies in some parts of Wales due to “significant” delays within sexual health services, ITV Wales has been told.
Staff shortages and a backlog created by the Covid pandemic has meant some women in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan who want to have contraception such as the coil or implant have been told they may have to wait up to six months to have the procedure.
The delays have meant those wanting to use a method of birth control called Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARCs) are being warned of a lengthy waiting list.
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, which provides services to more than 500,000 people, said it is having to prioritise “urgent health referrals” such as those most at risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.
“As well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued staffing pressures on the NHS as a whole, the additional impact of Monkeypox has further exacerbated service pressures”, a spokesperson said.
What are LARCs?
Intrauterine device (IUD)
Intrauterine system (IUS)
Long acting reversible contraception, such as the coil or implant, are among the most effective methods of contraception.
They must be inserted and removed by a trained doctor, nurse or health professional.
They are also used to help treat gynaecological issues such as heavy and painful periods.
They can also be used for people who cannot use other forms of contraception, such as the pill, for health reasons.
The coil for instance can be removed at any time by a trained doctor or nurse, and it is possible to get pregnant straight after it is removed. However, ITV News has been told there is up to a six month wait for this.
One charity told ITV News it is “vital” that women are able to access the treatment they need “as soon as possible”.
“'It's important to realise that these devices can be used both for contraception and relief of symptoms from gynaecological health conditions”, Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales said.
“Issues like pelvic pain and heavy bleeding can have a really significant and detrimental impact on women's lives and we know that many of those affected can find it difficult to cope at work and at home as a result of their symptoms.
“We hope that as planned gynaecology services are now being prioritised in Wales, this will start to make a positive difference for patients.”
'We are drowning'
A recent survey conducted by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare found 64% of respondents, which included GPs and those working in specialised sexual health services in Wales, said their work settings were not currently able to meet the demand for LARC insertion and removal.
Ninety per cent of respondents said their work setting is currently experiencing workforce shortages.
One respondent said: “There is a demographic cliff edge in the next 5 years when a large number of highly experienced primary care staff, GPs and practice nurses who will retire. The workforce distribution is highly skewed with few younger practitioners appearing to find primary care attractive”.
Dr Helen Munro, Vice President of the FSRH told ITV News: “Decreased access to LARCs makes it harder for women to avoid unplanned pregnancies and get treatment for conditions that have a serious impact on their health and wellbeing.
“Our members working on the frontlines of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare in Wales have told us that workforce shortages and reduced capacity are the single biggest threat to the sustainability of contraceptive services in Wales, both in the community and primary care.”
The Welsh Conservatives described the situation as “troubling”.
Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said: “It’s devastating that the NHS backlog – where 1-in-4 patients are waiting over a year – is leaving people across Wales languishing in pain, and for longer than elsewhere in the UK.
“That this is also affecting contraceptive services is troubling as the significant delays can produce negative consequences for people’s mental health and risks unwanted pregnancies”.
In response, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are aware of some waiting lists for some contraception, in particular the fitment of coils in the Cardiff and Vale Health Board area and they are taking measures to deal with this. We are not aware of problems in other parts of Wales.”
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