Frightened women in search of answers

Pill controversy: A London health clinic struggles to cope as patients panic in wake of Government warning
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The Independent Online

The telephone lines were jammed and the queue never shortened yesterday at the Margaret Pyke centre in central London, as worried women tried to find out if they were at risk from their Pill.

Telephonists and advisers at the family planning clinic had been doubled to cope with demand; the centre stayed open late yesterday and even considered opening over the weekend to help frightened callers.

Danielle Jones, 20, had been due to restart her pack of Mercilon, (one of the Pills named) on Thursday evening. The television news changed her mind.

"I was scared out of my life and my mum was panicking too," she said. "All this stuff about blood clots. I was meant to start a new packet but I didn't."

Danielle's action was just what Ann Sampson, the clinical specialist, had been dreading. She had spoken to several women who had not taken their Pills since Wednesday: "We're saying to them, don't put yourself at risk of pregnancy. Take your Pill now and use condoms for the next seven days," she said. "Women are terrified about thrombosis. They don't realise the risks are so small - The risk in pregnancy is much greater."

Ms Sampson took her first call at 9.10am yesterday morning, her second at 9.12am and her third at 9.18am. In three hours she dealt with nearly 40 calls as well as seeing anxious women face to face. The clinic usually sees 600 to 700 women a week. This week it estimates it will see 1,000.

Jane Ward, a 26-year-old PR assistant, sat miserably in the pastel waiting room, worried about her brand, Marvelon: "I know it's only meant to be a small risk," she said nervously. "But I thought it was worth coming in to seek advice on it. It seems such a shame because this Pill was meant to be so wonderful."

Rachel, 21, a tax clerk, was more sanguine: "I suppose there are always Pill scares going on . When you look at a 30 in 100,000 chance compared with the risks associated with taking other medicines, it's hardly anything."

Seventeen-year-old Demelza Woodbridge thought it had been handled wrongly: "I've read all the papers but it just seems a little bit silly to me. The way it was broken on the news there'll be a lot of women panicking and getting upset and stopping taking their Pills."

Sarah Raynor, deputy services manager at the clinic, said there had been "annoyance" among family planning specialists: "It's generally thought ... that this reaction has been somewhat premature. None of the senior family planning consultants or doctors have seen, in total, any of the findings in any of the papers and so have not been able to comment fully." She added: "There has been so much confusion. I've heard of a doctor who prescribed one of the named brands yesterday and when the woman went to the chemist they refused to give her the Pill. If the woman hadn't been able to get back to the doctor and sort it out, she would have been at risk of getting pregnant."

For all their fears, women seemed to be taking the clinic's advice. Jane Ward came out much happier: "They've explained everything and I've decided I'm not going to change my Pill until there's more evidence." Behind her the phone started ringing again.