Members of the public are being asked whether they would feel comfortable discussing contraception with their pharmacist as part of a new survey launched by the Advisory Group on Contraception (AGC).

The poll seeks to understand the experiences of women in accessing contraception, including where they would prefer to access it.

The project, run in collaboration with the English HIV and Sexual Health Commissioners Group, aims to provide insight into inequalities in women’s reproductive health, with a focus on vulnerable groups.

In particular, women are asked about their choice of contraception method, the support and advice they received from healthcare professionals, the quality, ease and timeliness of their experience and what setting they would prefer to access contraception.

Respondents can choose from a variety of options, including pharmacy, general practice and buying online.

They are also asked how comfortable they would be discussing their contraceptive needs with their local pharmacist if this service were available.

The survey aims to ‘shine a light on the fundamental access barriers to contraceptive provision with policy makers’, the AGC told our sister title, Nursing in Practice.

And it highlighted that in the government’s own public call for evidence, only 40% of women reported being able to conveniently access the services they need in terms of location, with just 24% reporting convenient timing of access, especially in relation to contraception.

The AGC also cited government figures showing a 42% real-terms reduction in contraceptive spend across England since 2015/16.

An AGC spokesperson said: ‘It is long-established that while damaging to all women, nowhere is the impact of cuts and reduced provision starker than among vulnerable groups.

‘And yet, to date, there is little research at a granular level into what barriers exist to those in marginalised groups, when it comes to accessing contraception.’

The AGC project is focused on vulnerable groups, but the survey is open to all women in the hope that the findings might provide ‘impactful insights into the depth of inequalities in women’s reproductive health’, the spokesperson added.

The Tier 1 of the Pharmacy Contraception Service commenced in April of this year, allowing community pharmacies across England to use a patient group direction to manage the ongoing monitoring and supply of repeat oral contraception that has already been initiated by a GP or a sexual health service.

By July 2023, more than 15% of community pharmacies in England had signed up to provide the service, after additional funding was announced in the primary care recovery plan.

The next stage of the service, enabling community pharmacists to initiate oral contraception, is currently being piloted.

Eventually, tiers 3 and 4 will include Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) including implants, vaginal rings, injections and patches, but specifically excludes intrauterine systems (IUSs) and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

Community pharmacist Deborah Evans, who is trained in fitting LARCs, told Pharmacy Show delegates this month that community pharmacy could play an ‘important role’ in helping to increase the use of LARCs to support a reduction in unintended pregnancy rates and costs to the NHS.

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication Nursing in Practice.