Know your options: looking after your sexual and reproductive health in the time of Covid-19

Posted 18 May 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many things in our lives. We see most people via a computer screen, and many of the cuts and scrapes that would normally lead us to seek medical care are much rarer now. In many ways we are living in a different world to the one we knew 3 months ago.

Dr Sarah Jarvis bioBut some facts of life don’t change. Women will still need contraception, abortion, and some other types of sexual and reproductive healthcare over the next few months. At a time where many of us feel less certain of our futures, it’s more important than ever that women can make the best choices to manage their fertility and protect their health.

This is why the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, a membership organisation of some of the most experienced sexual and reproductive health doctors and nurses in the country, has produced a short, practical guide for women who need to access sexual and reproductive healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic. It lets you know what type of care you can expect, how to access it, and what you may have to wait for until services return to normal. In this blog, I discuss some of the most important elements of this advice.

The first piece of advice I would give to the reader is simple: you can, and should, contact your doctor. Sexual and reproductive health are integral parts of women’s healthcare, and they deserve the same amount of attention as other elements of our health. So it’s important for you to know that you can still access contraception and abortion care, and other types of care like sexual assault care. In all cases, you can and should access care if you feel you have a need for it.

What should I expect when I contact my doctor?

Your first port of call should be the place you would normally go to get contraception or any other type of sexual and reproductive healthcare – that could be your GP or your local clinic.

Like all of us, services have had to find a ‘new normal’, meaning it will be necessary to provide – and to access – care in a different way.

When you contact your GP or clinic, you will be asked to take part in a ‘remote’ consultation, via telephone or video, for your first appointment. Very often, your issue can be dealt with remotely, and you will be able to have prescriptions posted to you or pick them up from your local pharmacy or clinic. These measures reduce contact with healthcare workers, minimising risk of transmitting infection to you and healthcare staff.

A lot of patients have found that seeing a doctor via remote consultation is more convenient than seeing them face to face. Nevertheless, you will still be able to see a doctor face to face if there is an urgent need for care. Your doctor will advise you when you speak to them whether it’s needed.

What type of care can I access?

You can always access contraception free on the NHS – that’s your right.

However, it’s useful to know that some forms of contraception will be easier to access than others at this time. For instance, if you have a prescription for oral contraception, you will be able to get a repeat prescription posted to you or to pick it up from your local pharmacy or clinic.

Many women use ‘long-acting reversible contraceptives’ (LARCs) – this refers to IUDs, IUS, the hormonal implant and the injection. Due to the need to reduce contact with patients, you may not be able to get a LARC fitted for the first time at the moment. If you currently have an IUD or IUS fitting which is due for removal or replacement, you may be asked to leave this in for the time being. While this can be worrying for some women, it’s important to remember that your doctor will only recommend this if it’s safe for you to do so. You can find more information in the guide.

If you are having pain or other serious side-effects from a form of long-acting reversible contraception, it’s important to let your doctor know as soon as possible.

What if I need an abortion?

There have been some worrying headlines about abortion being restricted around the world in response to the pandemic. Thankfully, that’s not the case in the UK, where abortion is recognised as essential, time-sensitive care.

If you have been pregnant for under 10 weeks in England and Wales, or up to 12 weeks in Scotland, you can have an abortion at home under new rules brought in by the Government. This reduces the amount of face to face contact with health workers.

How you can access an abortion depends upon where in the UK you live. The guide contains full information on how to refer yourself for an abortion in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.