London, Tuesday, 16th February 2021
The leading sexual and reproductive healthcare charity says protecting access to services is more important than ever.
MSI Reproductive Choices, a charity which provides abortion care services across the UK, has seen a 64%[i] increase in women and pregnant people reporting mental health concerns during the first ten months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The charity, which has doubled down on efforts to ensure continued access to its vital healthcare services says the global pandemic and national lockdowns are taking their toll on its patients, with reports of anxiety, depression or even suicidal ideation rising significantly amongst callers to its helpline, One Call, since March 23rd 2020, when national and regional lockdowns were first implemented.
The rise in callers struggling with poor mental health is also coupled with a 27%[ii] increase in the total number of overall safeguarding concerns flagged by MSI UK. This increase is almost exclusively amongst those over 18[iii].
The MSI UK team, which includes dedicated safeguarding nurses for adults and children as well as former police employees, are trained to spot vulnerable callers and work with the NHS, social workers and community mental health teams amongst others, to help keep women safe while they make the choices that are right for them.
“Abortion care is so much more than just the medical procedure”
Amy Bucknall, Named Nurse for Safeguarding of Adults and Children for MSI Reproductive Choices UK said:
“An unplanned pregnancy can be incredibly distressing and it’s even scarier during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women and pregnant people can’t lean on their usual systems of support, increasing the chance of anxiety and depression, exacerbating existing mental health vulnerabilities and leaving some people in crisis.
“We’ve had women crying down the phone because they are already under so much pressure and can’t cope with a pregnancy. With on-going cuts to mental health budgets and support from mental health teams also disrupted during the pandemic, we’ve seen a huge increase in calls from women in need of extra support and protection from us.
“Abortion care is so much more than just the medical procedure and our strong safeguarding processes and highly-trained, independent counsellors are critical in ensuring that people are protected and have all the support they need during what can be an already difficult time.”
As an important element of its high-quality abortion care service, MSI UK’s team also offer wrap-around support for every single patient, including independent counsellors who patients can speak to at any point before, during or after their treatment.
The team also supports with external referrals to GPs and community mental health teams as well as signposts to organisations such as The Samaritans and Mind.
The introduction of telemedicine for early medical abortion care has helped ease some of this strain by allowing eligible women to access care safely and quickly in the privacy of their own homes. It has also meant that MSI UK can provide more straightforward care efficiently, freeing up time for more complex cases.
Rigorous safeguarding checks and risk assessments mean some women still need to attend clinics, especially if they have contacted MSI UK later in their pregnancies or due to their medical history.
Kay had an early medical abortion during the pandemic, using MSI’s telemedicine service:
“During lockdown, I realised I was pregnant, but with health complications during my first pregnancy, I could not physically or mentally manage to carry a healthy pregnancy. I didn’t want to go through my GP as my line of work made privacy impossible and the other nearest clinic was over 100 miles away.
“After three phone calls with very professional and understanding staff at MSI, I received my pills seven days after finding out I was pregnant. I was scared about possible side effects but a lovely nurse on the helpline reassured me.
“Four and a half hours after inserting the pills, I began to pass the pregnancy. Later that night, I snuggled up with my daughter and read ‘Peace at Last’ and thought how thankful I am to MSI telemedicine for this peaceful moment, feeling safe and not afraid for my health or future.”
While telemedicine has increased access for some patients, MSI UK is worried that with the pandemic lasting long beyond what anyone expected, more and more people will be struggling with their mental health as well as an unplanned pregnancy.
A statement from Richard Bentley, Managing Director MSI UK
Richard Bentley, Managing Director of MSI Reproductive Choices UK said:
“Mental health is often referred to as the shadow pandemic and at MSI UK, we are seeing increasing numbers of women and pregnant people who need more complex support.
“Abortion care is much more than a gynaecological procedure and our highly-trained team are committed to providing high-quality abortion and wrap-around care including dedicated safeguarding, specialist complex care and independent counselling so that patients are protected when making the choices that are right for them.
“Now, more than ever, it is vital that service commissioners and the government understand the rapidly changing landscape in abortion care and ensure services are commissioned in line with new NICE Guidance and Quality Standards so that MSI UK can continue to provide patients with the support they need and deserve.”
[i] MSI internal data for calls to their helpline, One Call, which contained a mental heath concern. Received between between March 24th, 2020 and December 24th, 2020 (total: 967 calls) compared with calls received between 23rd June, 2019 and 23rd March 2020 (total: 589 calls).
[ii] MSI internal data for calls to their helpline, One Call, which contained a safeguarding concern. Received between between March 24th , 2020 and December 24th, 2020 (total:4,931 calls) compared with calls received between 23rd June, 2019 and 23rd March 2020 (total: 3873 calls).