Belfast Telegraph

Use of sexual health services drops

Fewer women have attended sexual health services since the morning-after pill has been on sale over the counter, it has emerged.

Dublin Well Woman Centre said just 800 women went for emergency contraception last year, compared with an average of 4,000 in previous years.

Alison Begas, chief executive, said the availability of emergency contraception direct from pharmacies since February 2011, instead of needing a prescription from a doctor, had a big impact on services.

"It's extremely important - from an affordability and equity point of view - that women are now able to get this very safe medication directly from their community pharmacy," Ms Begas continued.

"However, as a healthcare provider, Well Woman would like to see a stronger connection between accessing emergency contraception and a programme of holistic sexual healthcare.

"It has been our experience that emergency contraception appointments have acted as a woman's first route into sexual health services. This entry point is effectively no longer there with over-the-counter availability of emergency contraception."

Well Woman said the amount of women who want contraception has also fallen since the start of the economic crisis. Ms Begas said almost 6,500 women aged between 20 and 30 years went for birth control in 2008, while 3,500 women in this age group went last year.

Changes in contraception technology also had a small impact, with a steady increase in the demand for the long-acting contraceptive device Implanon which is effective for three years, she added.

Elsewhere, Well Woman's three Dublin clinics said the numbers attending for full screenings for sexually transmitted infections rose slightly.

Shirley McQuade, medical director, said: "People are living longer, have more sexual partners, and, because of the wide range of contraceptive options that are now available, they sometimes forget that, just because they might not get pregnant, the risk of contracting an STI remains."

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