Here’s how to access contraception in Edinburgh during COVID-19
Social distancing shouldn’t undermine reproductive health
Whether you’re shacked up with your SO or living out your own personal ‘Too Hot To Handle’ with flatmates (a definite no-go), lockdown will affect how you access sexual health services like contraception. It may not be the first thing on your mind right now, but even if you aren’t exactly booked up with dick appointments, it’s something you still need to consider.
Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was even asked about contraception at a recent press conference. With a swift: “Well this falls into the category of the many things I never thought I’d be stood here advising the public on”, she deferred the question to the “obstetrician in the room” – the (now former) Scottish Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood. She urged people to think long and hard about their sexual health choices and to continue accessing contraceptive services. She added: “If 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, is now really the time to have an unplanned pregnancy?”.
The era of COVID-19 is stressful enough without sexual health emergencies like an unplanned pregnancy. But equally, some people may be worried about potentially exposing themselves to the virus by accessing contraceptive services in person. Healthcare professionals are aware of these concerns and so professional bodies like the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH) have issued guidelines to allow services to operate with social distancing in place.
Access to contraception during lockdown
Social distancing means most GP surgeries and sexual health clinics have stopped all but the most essential face-to-face appointments. So, the best plan of action is to phone your usual provider and they can normally offer an appointment over the phone. The same is true for pharmacies: always phone ahead to avoid unnecessary trips. They may also be able to post or deliver anything you would otherwise usually need to pick up.
You can also make use of online prescription services like Fettle and Superdrug – although you will have to pay for these yourself.
What you should expect is very dependent upon what contraceptive methods you need to access.
Emergency contraception (including the Morning After Pill)
Accidents happen – even during lockdown. If you find yourself needing emergency contraception, ring your pharmacy who should be able to do the normal consultation over the phone. This is to see which type of the morning after pill would work best for you or to see if an emergency IUD fitting would be more beneficial.
In Scotland, all of these are available on the NHS via your pharmacy. Paid-for services are also available to post the morning after pill to you directly.
The pill and the patch
Access to the pill is very much dependent on which type of pill you take or want to take: the combined pill or the mini pill, which only contains progestogen. This is because the synthetic oestrogen found in the combined pill increases the risk of blood clots and strokes – but, in normal circumstances, this risk is minimised by monitoring your blood pressure and BMI.
Social distancing means it is harder for medical professionals to take these measurements. So, they are being advised to only prescribe the combined pill if someone’s blood pressure and BMI have been checked in the last 12 months. If they have not been checked recently enough, people still have options: they can either find a way to take measurements themselves, or are being temporarily offered the mini pill to bridge the gap.
Contraceptive patches contain the same hormones as the combined pill so the same checks on blood pressure and BMI apply.
The mini pill does not have these risks so is being prescribed with fewer restrictions. The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) also recommends prescribing it to new contraceptive users over the combined pill or longer term methods like the implant or IUD (that need to be fitted by medical professional and so social contact occurs).
The coil, the implant, and other long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)
With the exception of emergency IUDs, all new fittings and removals of these types of contraception have been suspended because of the need to socially distance. If you already have one fitted, the FSRH are advising it can be safely left in for the duration of lockdown with little risk of pregnancy – up to 12 years in the case of some copper coils. But if you are worried it having had it for too long for it to be effective, the advice is to supplement it with either the mini pill or condoms.
For more information, you can check out the Brook website, the website of your local sexual health provider (for NHS Sexual Health Lothian click here), or contact your GP/sexual health provider directly by telephone.