Unplanned pregnancies almost twice as likely during first UK Covid lockdown, new study finds

The proportion of women reporting issues getting contraception rose from 0.6% pre-lockdown to 6.5% post-lockdown

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Women were almost twice as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy during the first UK lockdown as before due to a lack of access to contraception, a new study has found.

Researchers analysed data from 9,784 women - who are all participants of the ongoing Contraception and Pregnancy Study (Cap-Covid) based at UCL and UCLH - and found that of the overall group, 4,114 conceived pre-lockdown (defined using the date of 1 April 2020) and 5,670 conceived post-lockdown.

Once researchers had taken account of factors that were likely to influence the results, including the women’s ages and time of conception, women were found to be nine times more likely to have difficulties in accessing contraception due to the pandemic.

The proportion of women reporting issues getting contraception rose from 0.6% pre-lockdown to 6.5% post-lockdown, with the proportion of unplanned pregnancies also nearly doubling over the period, from 1.3% pre-lockdown to 2.1% post-lockdown.

Women in the study were pregnant between 24 May and 31 December 2020.

‘Women continued to report ongoing difficulties in accessing contraception’

The report’s senior author Dr Jennifer Hall, of the UCL Institute for Women’s Health, said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries, including the UK, recognised the need for continuing contraception provision and implemented new practices and policies to deliver this.

“The UK saw a significant shift to telemedicine along with remote prescription for progestogen-only pill and combined oral contraceptive pill for up to a year compared to the usual three to six months, and many maternity services also worked to improve the postnatal contraception provision available in hospitals.

“However, we found that despite the introduction of new policies and practices by contraception and abortion service providers during the first lockdown, women continued to report ongoing difficulties in accessing contraception leading to a significant rise in the proportion of unplanned pregnancies.”

Researchers also said the percentage of unplanned pregnancies reported in the study may be an underestimate as they may not have captured data from women who did not plan to continue their pregnancy.

Dr Neerujah Balachandren, part of the Reproductive Medicine Unit at UCLH, said: “Prior research has pointed to several factors which may explain why it was harder to access contraception during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“These include a lack of clarity about the legitimacy of trying to access Sexual and Reproductive Health services (SRH) during a pandemic, uncertainty about which SRH services are still available, limited GP appointments, challenges to contraceptive prescribing and closure of usual points of access to free condoms within community settings.”

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