Access to and use of contraceptive care during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the UK: a web-based survey

BJGP Open. 2022 Sep 28;6(3):BJGPO.2021.0218. doi: 10.3399/BJGPO.2021.0218. Print 2022 Sep.

Abstract

Background: The first wave of lockdown measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK resulted in suspension of 'non-essential' services, including contraceptive care.

Aim: To examine women's perceptions and experiences of contraceptive care in the UK during the first lockdown.

Design & setting: A cross-sectional survey during the lockdown period from March-June 2020.

Method: An online questionnaire was designed asking women aged 16-54 years their experiences of contraceptive care during lockdown. Questions were based on Maxwell's evaluation framework on access, acceptability, relevance or appropriateness, and equity. It was promoted on social media from 27 May-9 June 2020. A descriptive analysis was conducted of quantitative data and thematic analysis of free-text data.

Results: In total, 214 responses were analysed. General practice was the source of contraception for 43.4% (n = 49) and 52.3% (n = 34) of responders before and during the lockdown, respectively. The study found 55.1% (n = 118) of responders, including regular and new users, were uncertain where or how to get contraception during the pandemic. Responders reported reduced access to contraception during lockdown, and some thought sexual health clinics and general practices were closed. Remote consultations and electronic prescriptions facilitated contraceptive access for some responders. Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) was unavailable in some areas owing to restrictions, and alternatives were not acceptable to those who used methods for non-contraceptive benefits to treat medical conditions; for example, menorrhagia.

Conclusion: The study highlighted the need for better information and signposting for contraception during lockdown. Contraception, including LARC, should be reframed as an essential service with robust signposting for pandemic planning and beyond.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; contraception; general practice; health services research; surveys and questionnaires.