Implanon reports will hit LARC uptake, GPs warn

Sensationalist reporting about the long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) Implanon will undo years of hard work increasing uptake of LARCs, GPs have warned.

For many women contraceptive implants are an extremely reliable form of contraception (Photograph: SPL)
For many women contraceptive implants are an extremely reliable form of contraception (Photograph: SPL)

Dr Anne Connolly, president of the Primary Care Women’s Health Forum, criticised reporting of the failure rate of Implanon. She said the reporting had sought to ‘sensationalise the problems associated with this method of contraception without reporting the benefits of this’.

‘Many women will now mistrust their method of contraception or refuse to opt for this as their chosen method,’ she said.

Channel 4 News reported earlier this week that, since the implant was introduced in 1999, the NHS has paid nearly £200,000 in compensation to women using it and 584 women using the implant had become pregnant.

Since 1999 over 1.3 million units have been prescribed in the UK, a spokeswoman for Implanon’s manufacturer MSD told GP. A review of nine years of data found there have been 0.049 pregnancies per 100 implants sold, she said.

Dr Connolly said that a great deal of work had been put into reducing numbers of unplanned pregnancy. ‘Encouraging women to use and to be able to easily access reliable fit-and-forget methods like the implant, rather than the easy to forget daily pill-taking regimens, reduces contraception failures,’ she said.

She said that those working in women’s health remembered the increased termination rates following the ‘pill scare’ from sensational news reports in 1995. ‘We are extremely disappointed to see this excellent product "damned" without quoting the real statistics,’ she said. ‘Many women will now mistrust their method of contraception or refuse to opt for this as their chosen method.’

London GP Dr Sebastian Kalwij, who has an interest in women's health, said that the reports had damaged women’s confidence in LARCs. ‘It's a real shame as LARCs are a popular choice amongst many patients and were seen as 100% safe,’ he said.  ‘This is no longer the case.’

‘A few headlines in the popular press can undo many years of hard work by GP's and others who advice on LARCs,' he added. 'For many patients this has caused enough stress to consider changing back to the Pill.’

Dr Sarah Creighton, genito-urinary consultant for City and Hackney PCT, said that, although the clinic had not yet had a large number of women asking for their implants to be removed, staff had concerns this might happen.

'Implanon is still an extremely reliable form of contraception and is over 99% effective,' she said. 'In terms of failures ofimplanon, there have only been 14 claims through the NHS litigation authority, plus maybe a few more through medical defence organisations. That is in the context of 1.4 million women having used Implanon since it was first licensed in 1999 and around 800 000 women currently use it.'

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