Doctors still failing to tell women about alternatives to the Pill

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Women are being denied more effective and longer-lasting forms of contraception, despite an official ruling that they should have wider access to the services.

Thousands of unwanted pregnancies could be avoided each year if doctors offered patients contraceptive implants and injections rather than the Pill.

But doctors are still failing to tell women about alternatives to the Pill, research by the FPA (formerly known as the Family Planning Association) has found. The survey, to launch contraceptive awareness week, found that one in four women aged 16 to 49 take the Pill, compared with just 9 per cent who use long-acting reversible contraception (Larc) methods.

The four main Larc options are the intra-uterine device (IUD), the intra-uterine system (IUS), contraceptive implants or injections. The IUS and IUD methods involve the one-off insertion of a device that lasts for several years, while an injection will be effective for several weeks and an implant for years at a time.

The National Institute for Clinical and Healthcare Excellence (Nice), the body that rules on which drugs should be available on the NHS, said last year that more women should be offered Larc methods as a first choice rather than the Pill.

Nice estimated that if Larc uptake was increased by just 9 per cent, unplanned pregnancies could be cut by 70,000 a year and the NHS would save an annual £33m in maternity and abortion costs.

The FPA found that 76 per cent of callers to its helpline had never heard of the IUS, more than a third were unaware of the IUD, one in four had no knowledge of implants and 12 per cent did not know anything about injectable forms of contraception. Less than a third said their doctor or practice nurse had talked to them about alternatives to the Pill.

The majority of women who request an abortion or go through with an unplanned pregnancy say they were using contraception, but that it failed. Research has found that 47 per cent of women forget to take the Pill at least once a month and 22 per cent have missed a dose at least twice.

But a survey of GP surgeries by the FPA found that more than two months after the Nice guidance was issued, less than half of doctors had read the new recommendations.

Toni Belfield of the FPA said: "Women aren't asking about Larc methods and doctors and nurses aren't telling them. Primary care trusts are reluctant to put the funding in for Larc because of the upfront costs ... but that is taking a short-term view because in the long term they could save a lot of money.''

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