Condom and lubricant vending machines are planned to be introduced across third-level colleges, according to Minister for Health Simon Harris.
“In 2018, more than 409,300 condoms and 288,000 lubricant sachets were delivered through the National Condom Distribution Service to organisations working directly with people at increased risk of unplanned pregnancy or STIs.” the Minister said while speaking on the release of a report by the Working Group on Access to Contraception.
The Working Group was established by the Minister this year to consider the issues relating to enhanced access to contraception, following the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment.
“The challenges associated with expanding access to contraception are a microcosm of the wider challenges facing the health service around Government funding, eligibility, integrated care, primary care staffing and workforce capacity and so on,” the report said.
The report supported progress towards “a more integrated health system, providing care on the basis of need and not ability to pay and where there is a meaningful and significant expansion of community-based care.”
The report concluded that the “policy initiatives in support of improved access to contraception may be justified and warrant further exploration, despite reservations that would seem to exist from an economic perspective.”
The group presented three different approaches to expanding contraception. Option A was the introduction of a state-funded contraception scheme “covering those items now available under General Medical Services (GMS) as well as the copper coil”. This is the option which is said to cost €80-€100m per year.
Option B was the expansion of the GMS scheme as it related to Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) to all women, estimated to cost €30-€40m per year. This option “was opposed by most stakeholders who wish to retain individual choice… women will have different contraceptive needs and preferences at different stages in their life.”
Option C was the introduction of a state-funded contraception scheme targeting younger women, aged 17-24. This would possibly cost around €18-€22m and is based on the evidence that younger age groups are more at risk for crisis pregnancy and are more likely to find the price of contraception a barrier to accessing it.
The main drawback to this option is clearly that it does not address any cost barrier that may exist for older women and is likely to be more complex. The provision of free contraception to younger women could be seen as the first stage of a phased, long-term approach to steadily improve access to contraception to all.
Author: Beibhinn Thorsch
Image credit: Alison Clair