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A 10-week wait for a coil? British women are facing a quiet crisis in contraceptive care | Nell Frizzell

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When a friend recently told me that there was a 10-week waiting list to have a copper coil fitted, my shock turned quickly into anger. Ten weeks is a hell of a long time to wait for adequate, hormone-free, affordable contraception. To put it into context, that means anyone who had asked for a coil fitting on 29 December – surrounded by Quality Street and the Christmas Radio Times – would be coming up to their appointment just about now. Someone requesting one today might hopefully get an appointment by 18 May. What, precisely, are you meant to do in the meantime? As is so often the case with women’s health, that’s your problem.

We are experiencing a quiet crisis in contraceptive care in this country. Lives are being jack-knifed off course by the kind of policies that are often only discussed in corners, with close friends. Perhaps this was always going to be the result, not just of living through a pandemic, but of living under a government that has continually cut funding to sexual health services. According to a report by the Advisory Group on Contraception: “Going into lockdown, services had faced years of budget cuts by the government, leading to an 18% decrease in real-terms contraception spend since 2015.”

The same report points out that there has also been a huge reduction in sites commissioned to deliver contraception (26% of local authorities cut sites in 2018-2019), meaning people are having to travel further to get the medical help they need, simply not to have an unplanned, unwanted, unaffordable or unsafe pregnancy. I have heard of one woman who was told she would have to travel 93 miles for an abortion, only to turn up and find the doctor wasn’t in, so she had to wait a further two weeks for an appointment in a different city. In the end, the whole process took so long that she went from needing a medical abortion – two pills, taken a few days apart – to a surgical abortion.

Talking of pregnancy, you would be excused for missing the significant changes in abortion services over the past few years. For example, you may not have noticed that a large number of abortions are now handled by a charity, rather than the NHS. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) helps, in its own words, “100,000 women a year access reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception at clinics across Great Britain”. I am in favour of anything that makes access to early abortion easier, faster and friendlier. But I can’t help but wonder why such an essential medical service is being handled by a charity. I may be talking rubbish here, but it’s not as if your council tax is processed by Shelter or your warfarin is prescribed by the British Heart Foundation.

During lockdown, BPAS was – after some rather confusing government messaging – allowed to provide “telemedicine” as a temporary measure. Essentially, it was able to send out the pills necessary to terminate a pregnancy following a phone consultation. No need to go to the doctor, no need for an ultrasound. But sadly, as Vicky Spratt has reported for the website Refinery29, on 24 February the government announced that it would be scrapping at-home early medical abortions after 29 August. Why this change? Especially when access to in-person services has become harder, thanks to BPAS closing some of its physical clinics after the move to telemedicine. Well, it’s because, as Spratt puts it, “anti-abortion campaigners are more vocal than people who are in favour of abortion”. When it comes to courting public approval – and this government seems to do little else – restraining access to abortion will always play out well with a very vocal minority. As a parent, I would genuinely like to know what the anti-abortion lobby would like us to do with our unplanned and unwanted pregnancies; I would like to know who is going to look after those children and parents.

Here is a list of just some of the people who are likely to have needed an abortion in the last year: a nurse; the woman bringing you a plate of beans on toast on Sunday morning; the person who delivers your shopping; the woman who looks after your kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays; the mum at the school gates with navy boots; that woman at the gym who wears a T-shirt advertising an investment bank; your daughter. According to the Office for National Statistics, 25.2% of conceptions in England and Wales in 2019 ended in abortion. That’s just over one in four.

Unfortunately, the stigma still attached to contraception and reproductive health means people are less willing to complain publicly about the huge waiting times, the travel costs and the difficulty they face in accessing contraception and abortion. Subtly and overtly, we are told that this is our lot and we must bear it. After all, there are plenty of people out there ready to whip our reproductive rights out from under us. Which makes it easier for government to keep cutting funding. Continually making small slices, from every side, scraping bits off with a fingernail, breaking off whole corners, then putting it back in the fridge, hoping nobody notices that it is now half the size it should be.

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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