Commenting on the audit of contraceptive services just published by the Department of Health (DH), Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association (fpa) said:
"We welcome the publication of the findings of the contraceptive services audit. Although the audit was completed in 2005, it provides some data about the state of contraceptive services in England.
"Sadly these findings make depressing reading but they are not a surprise. For several years fpa has been warning that the situation is dire. As this audit reveals, contraception is an ailing, fragmented and chronically underfunded public health service. The fact that some primary care trusts (PCTs) found it acceptable to spend just 18 pence on each woman's contraception is simply beyond belief.
"Since the audit was finished, the situation has only got worse. Many PCTs used the Choosing Health money allocated to contraception services for other purposes. Consequently, more contraceptive clinics have closed and services have been cut. Clinics provide specialist training for doctors and nurses, so their closure will deeply affect services in the future as the number of trained staff shrinks.
"Investing in contraceptive services actually saves the NHS money. Research carried out for fpa by the University of Newcastle shows that investing in longer-acting methods of contraception would save the NHS £500m over 15 years. Nevertheless, the audit shows that 20% of PCTs have restricted women from having these methods.
"This audit should act as an alarm call to all PCTs to evaluate their strategic approach to reproductive healthcare," continued Ms Weyman.
"PCTs have to recognise the value to healthcare of contraception and abortion provision. Reconfiguring contraceptive services so they are responsive to the needs of the local community must now be a top priority for every PCT.
"Investment must reach frontline services fast. New strategies and frameworks taking a holistic approach to reproductive healthcare must urgently be put in place so that services can survive in the future.
"Finally, patient choice should be paramount. Men and women should be able to access the same high quality of care, whether they get contraception from community contraception clinics or general practice."