By Dame Diana Johnson DBE MP
The ‘new normal’ is a phrase we’re hearing a lot at the moment. The Cross-Party Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health in the UK needs you to help shape a ‘new normal’ for access to contraception after the pandemic.
We were formerly the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health, and we are a group of MPs and Peers who seek to promote the importance of sexual and reproductive health in Parliament.
In our advocacy, we depend heavily on the expertise of doctors and campaigners in the field. Over the years, we’ve produced reports examining accountability in sexual health and the health cost of cuts to contraceptive provision. We’ve held meetings on a multitude of topics, from sexual and reproductive healthcare for LBT people to relationships and sex education to HPV. Throughout, the knowledge, experience and dedication of healthcare professionals to preserving and advancing women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare has been the driving force behind the Group.
I am therefore writing this blog to encourage readers of the BMJ SRH to contribute to our new Inquiry into Access to Contraception.
We launched the Inquiry in 2019, in response to concerns about the fragmented nature of the commissioning system and its impact on women’s access to contraception. We received evidence from a huge variety of contributors – doctors, patients, commissioners and medical charities alike.
We heard that there’s a lot more to be done to ensure that access to contraception is easy, equitable and effective. Only then can we help all women, and especially vulnerable women, to make the best choices to manage their fertility and exert control over their lives.
Due to pressure on Parliamentary time through Brexit and then the General Election in late 2019 we were unable to complete our report as quickly as we had hoped to do so. This year, we planned to reopen the Inquiry briefly for any updates before publishing a report in the summer. Then Coronavirus arrived in the UK.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on many families and communities in the UK. The practical requirement for social distancing has changed many relationships. But social distancing has also changed the way that people have accessed contraception, and in many cases the type of contraception they are able to access.
Because of this, we’ve reopened the Inquiry into Access to Contraception specifically to take into account changes to contraceptive provision during the Covid-19 pandemic. We want to hear about how services have changed, the challenges these changes have created, the opportunities that have arisen alongside.
It seems quite clear that the NHS will not ‘go back to normal’ after this pandemic. Instead, there will be a ‘new normal’, a health service reshaped by the necessities of the pandemic, carved out by the ingenuity, adaptiveness and resilience of our healthcare professionals.
It’s a daunting prospect, but it’s also a huge opportunity for positive change. The voice and needs of women and of the sexual and reproductive health community must be present in that discussion.
So if you are reading this and you recognise some of the issues I’ve described, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to submit to the Inquiry. Your submission doesn’t necessarily need to fill several pages or contain hundreds of citations. Real-life experiences, case studies, brief overviews will all help in shaping our findings, which in turn will help us Parliamentarians to advocate for a system which works better for healthcare professionals and better for women.
The deadline for submission is 17th June, but we will allow submissions for a grace period of a week after that. You can find out more about submitting to the Inquiry here.