The coronavirus lockdown is making it difficult for women to get their birth control topped up

Women's access to contraception is being impacted because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)
Women's access to contraception is being impacted because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)

Paige normally receives her contraception pill every three months via a repeat prescription. She has to visit her GP so they can check her blood pressure before receiving the birth control and heading off on her merry way.

But this month, as the coronavirus pandemic has swept the globe, it hasn’t been quite so easy.

Due to the coronavirus, the GP appointments at Paige’s surgery are now via the phone, with no face-to-face appointments with doctors possible.

“I wouldn't be able to see a doctor at my GP anyway though as I'm not currently in London, but even if I was – how could I get my blood pressure taken?” Paige tells Yahoo UK.

Having spoken to the surgery, Paige was told she couldn’t get a prescription without her blood pressure reading.

“I was told I’d need to go to a local pharmacy near to where I am currently staying with my parents to have my blood pressure taken,” she says.

“But, my mum is one of the 1.5million most vulnerable people who received a letter, so I'm not able to leave the house to protect her.”

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Ultimately, Paige was able to get a blood pressure device dropped off by a neighbour, so she could check it at home and call her GP with the figures.

And though she managed to receive her prescription just in time and understands we all might have to do things a little differently right now, the situation was stressful.

Many women, after all, don’t solely use birth control to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

Some use it to regulate their monthly cycle and help relieve menstrual cramps and other similar ailments associated with periods.

Women's contraceptive choices are being impacted during coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)
Women's access to contraception are being impacted during coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)

Becky Stead, 22, from Yorkshire has been taking Microgynon for almost eight years and originally started taking it to help her very heavy periods.

“There were times that I was off school as I simply couldn’t get out of bed – the pain was unbearable,” she explains.

Becky usually receives six months’ worth of pills at a time, visiting her GP to have her weight and blood pressure checked, but due to the coronavirus outbreak her appointment was cancelled.

Thankfully Becky has a blood pressure machine at home so was able to order her prescription online, but it has left her feeling concerned about future contraception access during this time.

“I was so relieved I didn’t have to suffer a period without it as I know I would have been in agony if I had to do so,” she explains.

“I understand for some people their pill is just a form of contraception (which is important as it is), but I would have really struggled without.”

Rosalie, 42, from London has also seen her birth control access impacted by the coronavirus.

She was due to have a coil fitted on March 24, but saw her appointment cancelled by the clinic due to COVID-19.

As a result Rosalie is now being forced to stay on the contraceptive pill, but has concerns about the risk of that due to her age.

“I wanted to have the coil fitted as I don’t want to put additional unnecessary chemicals or hormones into my body (the copper coil IUD is non hormonal.)

“I’m worried having to continue taking Microgynon puts me at risk because of my age,” she explains.

“My mum also had breast cancer, which I worry puts me at greater risk, hence the importance not to put my body under any pressure from additional hormones.”

What should women who need their birth control topped up do?

The NHS is, understandably, being increasingly stretched while having to protect staff and the most vulnerable from the spread of COVID-19.

But, this has had a knock-on effect on contraception appointments. So, where does that leave those in need of a birth control top-up?

Due to the government’s social distancing rules, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) is not currently recommending face-to-face consultations for contraception.

Instead they are urging women not to visit a clinic in person, and to only access services if their need for care is immediate.

“Women must be able to access safe and effective contraception during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Dr Anne Lashford, vice president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH).

“Their first port of call should be the place where they have accessed care before - that could be their GP or their local sexual and reproductive healthcare clinic.

“Women should not attend the clinic in person, but make contact by telephone or email instead. Women will be asked to participate in a telephone or video consultation to discuss their needs.

“This is to minimise the potential spread of COVID-19 and to avoid unnecessary travel. If further examination is required, a face-to-face appointment may be arranged.”

Dr Lashford says it may not be possible to start a woman's chosen contraceptive method at this time, but they will be provided with an effective temporary method.

“The progestogen-only pill is a good option as an effective temporary ‘bridging’ method of contraception,” she adds.

“If women are having problems with their current contraceptive method, they should contact their GP or local contraception clinic by phone or e-mail.”

Read more: Morning after pill now available for same-day home delivery

Women are finding it difficult to get their contraception topped up during coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)
Women are finding it difficult to get their contraception topped up during coronavirus outbreak. (Getty Images)

According to Dr Kathryn Basford, an online doctor at Zava UK, women can be prescribed the contraceptive pill for a number of health conditions including irregular, heavy or painful periods, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), acne or even endometriosis.

And seeing their access to that contraception disrupted can have a knock-on effect on their health.

“If women are forced to take a sudden or unexpected break, they might find that their symptoms return,” she explains. “For example, people with endometriosis are sometimes prescribed the pill continuously to prevent menstruation which can often be extremely painful and debilitating.

“Taking a break from hormonal contraception will mean that the regular cycle, along with menstruation, returns.”

“For those who are forced to come off the pill or change to a different type due to shortages, they may experience symptoms such as mood swings or changes to their skin or weight as the body adjusts to new hormone levels.”

And of course delays in accessing contraception could put women at increased risk of unwanted pregnancy.

“We are aware that many of the family planning clinic appointments are getting deferred,” says Mr Narendra Pisal, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology.

“This obviously puts women at risk of unwanted pregnancy. It is important to use condoms which can be obtained easily and will provide adequate protection from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

“It's not dangerous to suddenly change to condoms, but it will be far riskier to go without any contraception.”

Mr Pisal says many GPs and family planning clinics are making an effort to continue prescribing the birth control pill and are also advising extended use of certain types of contraception.

“Women who use the Mirena coil, can extend the use to six years (rather than usual five) and the use of implant can also be extended to four years,” Mr Pisal explains.

“This extended use however does not apply to other coils (copper coil, Jaydess or Kylena coils) and additional barrier contraception should be used.”

Read more: The medication that disrupts your contraception

Women can of course also consider accessing certain forms of contraception online.

“The impact of COVID-19 for women to access contraception has been huge, but we were already in a contraception crisis before this pandemic,” explains Valentina Milanova, the founder of Daye.

“Access to sexual and female health services are a priority and should be taken seriously.

“To address this issue we are working on fast tracking one of Daye's newest offerings, a contraception delivery proposition, so women can continue to access certain contraceptions from the comfort of their homes.”

If you are struggling to get hold of your usual contraceptive pill you can order your prescription from online doctors such as Zava UK to be delivered to your home the following day.

“You can also contact one of our doctors who will be able to provide advice if you can't find your normal pill and recommendations on possible alternatives,” Dr Basford adds.

Yahoo UK contacted the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) for comment, but a spokesperson told Metro: “It is essential that contraceptive services are still accessible to women and their partners during this time.

“While it’s understandable that the focus of the NHS is on the pandemic, it is vital to ensure access to birth control and contraception remains.”