The coronavirus outbreak has been nothing short of life-altering, with one of the most notable changes being the panic purchasing of necessities. Products we previously took for granted, like toilet paper and beans, are now a hot commodity, with many of us left wondering where to access basic resources like medication and canned food. Also on that list: contraception. As the UK government and NHS continuously readjust to this evolving pandemic, what does this mean for those needing access to sexual health services?
Since the UK was placed under lockdown on March 23, it’s been harder to access contraception. The NHS announced that all non-urgent surgeries will be cancelled for the next three months to relieve pressure on front-line medical staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19. These cancellations include routine contraceptive appointments like implant and coil fittings, injection procedures, and related consultations.
If you have a contraception appointment with the NHS, you should be contacted soon to re-arrange the appointment for a time when the lockdown is lifted. However, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is recommending GPs conduct telephone consultations wherever possible, so don't worry – you may still be able to speak with your doctor.
There are also many private services available that allow you to speak to a doctor via video call so if your GP cannot see you, this may be a viable option. Private companies like Treated, LIVI and Kry allow you to attend a GP consultation virtually (at a cost!), and can fill out prescriptions if needed. They even offer a subscription service where contraceptive pills can be discreetly delivered to your door. These are also great options for those currently not signed up with a GP, or those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and can't leave home.
For those awaiting services that involve physical interaction with a medical professional, such as an implant, injection or IUD fitting, you unfortunately need to postpone these appointments until further notice. Sarah Toler, science writer for fertility tracking app Clue, tells VICE UK that the NHS have made some changes to accommodate those awaiting replacement IUD coils, implants (Nexplanon), or are looking to start taking the pill:
- Combined pill users no longer need a blood pressure reading for a six-month repeat supply of pills.
- For a new pill starter, a blood pressure reading can be obtained at home and given to the doctor over the phone.
- The length of time the IUD and implant can be left in place has now been extended by one year.
In the meantime, the most effective protection from STIs and unwanted pregnancies is the humble condom. You may feel concerned by recent reports that coronavirus will cause a global shortage of condoms, but Durex issued a statement confirming that business is running as usual, including their delivery service. According to their websites, no delays are expected from other key industry players like Skyn or Mates either. The NHS also provides an active service for locating clinics and pharmacies in your area offering free condoms. Remember to call them first, though, in case they offer delivery or contactless pickup options.
Whether you choose to purchase condoms, order contraception online, or continue accessing methods through your GP, don't stockpile! You might need access to contraceptive supplies, but so do others around you. Grabbing half a year’s worth of rubbers simply means someone else won't have any, so don’t be a stingy bastard. According to Toler, "when looking to purchase condoms, it's wise to keep enough to last an extra month. Usually, people keep a one-month supply, so doubling this should be sufficient".
If you use hormonal contraception, Toler also suggests requesting a six-month prescription. The NHS are suggesting this method as a temporary solution themselves, so it's certainly not unreasonable. Unless you have any medical issues that will conflict, it's unlikely this request would be rejected. Toler adds, "a six-month prescription ensures you have more than enough hormonal contraception, without impacting others’ access to it".
STI TESTS AND TREATMENTS
If you have symptoms of an STI, you should call your local sexual health clinic and follow their advice. Testing for STIs can be performed using a home test kit from places like SH:24, Freetest.me or Sexual Health London, which you can order online for free.
If you know you're prone to UTIs, thrush or BV, it's a good idea to keep stock of over-the-counter treatment (WITHOUT HOARDING). Consider ordering these treatments from an online pharmacy like The Health Counter, to comply with social distancing guidance. If symptoms persist and you need urgent medical care, use the NHS' 111 online service and follow their advice.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms or you can't access your GP and need emergency contraception, call your nearest sexual health service for advice. Most pharmacies can deliver the morning after pill to you for a small fee. Alternatively, you may ask a family member or friend to collect it for you and use a contactless drop-off method.
Access to sexual health support will be undeniably harder in this unpredictable time, especially for the majority of people unable to turn to private health services – but the good news is it's unlikely Britons will ever lose access to contraception. As we've seen in countries like Italy, where the virus has been particularly destructive, pharmacies and supermarkets have remained open even when a complete lockdown has taken effect. If the pandemic reaches a similar threat level in the UK, the public will still be provided with pharmaceutical services. This includes prescription services and contraceptive support, so condoms, variations of the pill, and emergency contraception will continue to be available.
With the UK officially in lockdown and going stir-crazy behind closed doors, we’re going to need access to contraception more than ever. Don’t put off obtaining the protection you need, lest the nation be filled with chaotic Sagittarius babies.
Keep updated with COVID-19 and changes to sexual health services on the NHS website.