Government needs to prioritise its commitment to free contraceptive scheme to all women
The Dublin Well Woman Centre (DWWC) has given a cautious welcome to the announcement in today’s Budget 2022 by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly of a funding allocation to realise the Programme for Government commitment to free contraception. Access to free contraception was a recommendation made by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment and was included in the Programme for Government in 2020 for women aged 17 – 25 years.
Commenting on the Budget announcement, Well Woman’s Chief Executive, Alison Begas, said; “We welcome today’s announcement by Minister Stephen Donnelly that his Department has allocated funding to realise this commitment. It’s a positive start, and a good day for women in Ireland, and it gives us confidence that free contraception can begin to be rolled out in 2022 for women aged 17 – 25 years.”
“If the programme is planned and delivered well, and crucially if it includes funding for the more effective long-acting forms of contraception, it will take away the cost barrier for women aged 17 – 25 years, thus helping reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies. It will give women choice about when to become pregnant. This is a welcome first-step in rolling out a fully State-funded contraception scheme to all women in their reproductive years,” she continued.
Providing free contraception for women aged under 25 is a good first step. DWWC has called for a detailed plan on how it will be rolled out. It is important that those organisations with frontline expertise, such as Well Woman, are consulted by the Department of Health’s Implementation Group at an early stage.
In 2020, the DWWC published the most comprehensive national research in ten years on women’s knowledge, awareness, and access to contraception. This research, The Contraception Conversation, showed that the cost of contraception is one of the barriers faced by many women, especially young women.
Dr Shirley McQuade, Medical Director of DWWC said, “Our clinical experience every day, confirms that women face many barriers to accessing the most appropriate forms of contraception. All women should be able to access contraception that is most appropriate for them, and free of charge. There is no one right form of contraception for each woman, and many will change what contraception they use over time. A comprehensive programme should give a woman the choice of which she wants to use, in consultation with her GP or medical professional.”
DWWC fits an increasing amount of Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) every year. LARCs are more dependable than other popular forms of contraception such as the pill or condom, whose effectiveness depends on rigorously compliant use. LARCs have an extremely high rate of success and are over 99% effective in reducing the incidence of unintended pregnancy.
DWWC’s 2020 research confirmed that the contraceptive pill and condoms are the most common forms of contraception used by respondents. 28% of respondents use the contraceptive pill whilst 27% rely on condoms to prevent pregnancy. These are the methods cited most often in contraceptive failure by health experts and extensive international research.
“Over half of the respondents in The Contraception Conversation (53%) were not aware that the condom has a 17% failure rate in typical use, and almost half (49%) were not aware that the failure rate for the pill is actually 9%,” commented Alison Begas.
Well Woman’s Medical Director Dr Shirley McQuade said “We are experiencing a growing demand amongst women in Ireland for LARCs with many women increasingly aware of the benefits of LARCs when presenting to a Well Woman Clinic Doctor for their initial consultation. LARCs have proven to be a much more effective form of contraception than the oral contraceptive pill, and these ‘Fit and Forget’ contraceptives are also the most cost-effective form of contraception in the long term.”
“Yet cost can be a significant barrier when it comes to accessing Long-Acting Reversible Contraception methods,” she continued. “Whereas a LARC can provide highly effective contraception for 3 – 10 years (depending on the option chosen), there is an upfront purchase and fitting cost, which can deter younger women.”
Concluding, Alison Begas said: “We need to see a timeline for universal, free access to contraception. Adequate resourcing of the programme is crucial. It also needs to address geographic and information barriers to accessing the appropriate form of contraception. This must be seen as the start of a comprehensive programme of contraception, which then needs to be rolled out to women across all reproductive years. So, it’s a case of much done, but more to do.”
For further details, please check out: www.wellwomancentre.ie @dublinwellwoman
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About the Dublin Well Woman Centre:
DWWC was founded in 1978, with the aim of giving women in Ireland access to information and services around contraception, at a time when it was largely illegal. In the 1980s and 90s the organisation fought a number of court cases at the High Court and Supreme Court, eventually winning (at the European Court of Human Rights) the right to give women information on abortion and on abortion services available outside the State. It campaigned for repeal of the 8th Amendment for many years.
DWWC operates three women’s health clinics in Dublin, and employs 34 doctors, nurses, counsellors, and administrative staff. Over 35,000 consultations are provided annually, and the DWWC prides itself on offering services that support women at every stage of their reproductive health journey. The Dublin Well Woman Centre is a not-for-profit organisation and is a registered charity.