2021 – a year in review for SRH
Date: 26 Jan 2022
Author: Dame Diana Johnson DBE MP
In this month’s eFeature, Dame Diana Johnson DBE MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health, shares her reflections on progress made in 2021 in improving access to SRH and the actions still needed to ensure women and girls have full control over their reproductive health.
2021, once again, presented us with unexpected challenges and a continually-shifting new normal to grapple with. COVID-19 has meant that access to contraception and other aspects of sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) has become more difficult – as is also the case in many other areas of healthcare.
COVID-19 has meant that access to contraception and other aspects of sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) has become more difficult – as is also the case in many other areas of healthcare.
The result of this is deeply concerning, as seen in a University College London study which found the proportion of unplanned pregnancies almost doubled during the pandemic.
Much action is still needed for women and girls to have full control over their reproductive health. We have, however, seen progress in a number of important aspects of SRH which I wanted to share my reflections on.
In abortion care – which one in three women will need access to at least once in their lifetime – we’ve seen the hugely positive impact of telemedicine for early medical abortion. The temporary measures, introduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have enabled thousands of women to access care via medication being posted to them following a telephone consultation with a qualified nurse or midwife. The APPG SRH, which I Chair, is calling for these measures to be made permanent following Government consultations on the issue in England, Wales and Scotland – supporting calls from across the charity and medical sectors.
We’ve also seen key voices in the SRH community putting the topic of abortion clinic buffer zones firmly back on the policy agenda. A cross-party amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was introduced by Dr Rupa Huq MP and, while not voted on, it highlighted the importance of protecting women’s privacy and ending the intimidation and harassment experienced by many when accessing an essential form of healthcare.
We have also seen positive movements to ensure access to abortion in Northern Ireland, with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis MP setting out a direction in July 2021 that abortion services must be fully-funded and commissioned by 31 March 2022. While critical work is underway, there is still much to do to ensure that women in Northern Ireland have access to the same care as women in other parts of the UK. Any plans are also dependent on approval and funding from the Northern Ireland Executive; it is important that Westminster works to ensure there are no further delays to women being able to access this essential, legal form of healthcare.
With the contraceptive pill turning 60 last year, we have also seen steps to improve access to contraception.
With the contraceptive pill turning 60 last year, we have also seen steps to improve access to contraception. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced in July that two progestogen-only contraceptive pills (POP) would be available in pharmacies without the need for a prescription – as called for by the APPG SRH following our Inquiry into Access to Contraception. While there are still a multitude of challenges for women when it comes to navigating a fragmented SRH healthcare system, this move will make be easier for women to access essential contraception.
Moving forwards, we need to see the reclassification of other brands of POP and additional policies brought forward to improve access to contraception, specifically among marginalised and under-served groups – as set out in the APPG SRH’s report ‘Women’s Lives, Women’s Rights’.
Last year, the APPG SRH met to discuss the importance of a lifecourse approach to SRH – meaning the need for SRH to be accessible and individualised at each stage of women’s lives, from puberty through the years of menstruation, to the menopause and beyond. We are certainly seeing progress in specific points in girls and women’s lives – such as the implementation of statutory relationships and sex education (RSE) guidance and the establishment of a new Government Menopause Taskforce. We’ve also seen governments adopting a lifecourse approach when planning around women’s health, with the Scottish Government’s Women’s Health Plan published in August being underpinned by this as one of its four principles.
2022 will see the restructure of the public health system, continued scrutiny of the Health and Care Bill, the development of Integrated Care Systems, and the publication of a national Women’s Health Strategy and Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy in England. This is a key moment to tackle long-standing issues and increase access to high-quality SRH, with a lifecourse approach being central to this.
This is a key moment to tackle long-standing issues and increase access to high-quality SRH, with a lifecourse approach being central to this.
Where access to SRH is limited, there is a ripple effect on the health and social wellbeing of girls and women. We must continue to stand up for the rights of individuals to have full control over their reproductive health. I look forward to supporting more much-needed action in this area in 2022.
If you are interested in hearing more about the work of the APPG SRH email the Secretariat at APPG@fsrh.org.
Published in the January 2022 edition of the Sexual Health, Reproductive Health and HIV Policy eBulletin. The content of all eFeatures represents the views and opinions of the authors. FSRH and coalition partners do not necessarily share or endorse the views expressed within them.