health

'Unplanned pregnancies unexpectedly surged during the first Covid lockdown'


Miriam Stoppard reports that difficulties in getting hold of contraceptives led to a boom in unplanned pregnancies during Coronavirus isolation

Unplanned pregnancies shot up during lockdown

Now here’s a surprising one. I’d have thought unplanned pregnancies would’ve fallen during lockdown with all that worry, anxiety and frustration. But I’d have been wrong.

There were nearly twice as many unplanned pregnancies during the first lockdown compared to before, according to a study led by researchers at University College London Hospital who analysed data from 9,784 women.

Of those, 4,114 conceived pre-lockdown and 5,670 conceived post-lockdown. What could account for the higher post-lockdown figure?

Believe it or not it was something as simple as not being able to get hold of contraceptives.

Overall, the research team found women were nine times more likely to have difficulties getting contraception during the first lockdown leading to a near doubling in unplanned pregnancies from 1.3% pre-lockdown to 2.1%, although researchers believe this figure is an underestimate.

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

Senior author Dr Jennifer Hall, of the UCL Institute for Women’s Health, said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic 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.”

First author, Dr Neerujah Balachandren, of the Reproductive Medicine Unit at UCLH, added: “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 during a pandemic, uncertainty about which services are still available, limited GP appointments, challenges to contraceptive prescribing and closure of usual points of access to free condoms within community settings.”

Women were so badly served in this area it’s a scandal.

The overall annual cost of unplanned pregnancies in England was estimated to be £193million back in 2010 and a rise in unplanned pregnancies will inevitably increase pressures on already stretched ­abortion and maternity services.

In addition, data released last month shows there were 210,860 abortions in England and Wales in 2020, the highest since records began.

Sure, there’s a financial cost to unplanned pregnancies but unplanned births also produce a negative social and economic fallout.

While the official date of the first UK lockdown was March 23, the study authors used April 1 to ensure that those being surveyed in the post-lockdown group would have faced ­restrictions during the month that they conceived.

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