Women in Walthamstow are making progress in their campaign to ensure provision of adequate sexual health and family planning services in the borough.

Following their efforts - which have included giving evidence to members of the House of Lords - health officials have announced plans to set up a weekly family planning clinic every Thursday from 2-7pm at the Comely Bank Health Clinic, in Addison Road, E17. They have also agreed to meet with the campaigners on Friday 20 July.

Lack of local provision

Campaigners have uncovered evidence of widespread frustration in Walthamstow with the services, as lack of local provision meant they had to go to the Leyton clinic for sexual health advice. They presented a report to local healthcare providers detailing the high rates of teenage pregnancy, repeat abortions and STIs in the area as well as identifying the problems with services locally including doctors refusing to prescribe contraceptives and poor quality provision of sexual health testing.

Jenny Lennox, who lives in Walthamstow and has been part of the campaign, is a new mother. She only found out after she’d had her baby that she couldn’t get the pill from her GP but would have to travel to Leyton for family planning advice. Jenny said:

‘I was horrified when I found out. Instead of a ten-minute walk to my GP, it meant a 20 minute bus ride with my baby in her buggy. Then, when I got there, I faced a long wait because they don’t run an appointments system. You just have to turn up and wait.’

Campaigners highlight that Walthamstow has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country. Yet for women in E17 whose doctor is unwilling to offer them contraceptive advice, there has been no provision since a family planning clinic in Hurst Road closed in 2006. Services have only been on offer at Leyton or the Chingford Clinic.

New clinic welcomed, but more improvements needed

‘This is a real step in the right direction,’ Jenny said. ‘But now we need to make sure local women know about the service and that it is well used, or it will just close again.

‘And we also feel that an appointments-based service would be better for local women. Women who work in town, and don’t get home until after 6pm, want to be able to book an early evening appointment, not just turn up and hope that someone will have time to see you.’

The women have also lobbied for the Leyton Oliver Road clinic to be open its normal hours during the Olympics. There had been a suggestion at one stage that it might have to run a reduced hours’ service because of the potential disruption during the games. But that’s no longer on the cards.

Another local campaigner, Lynn Eaton, said: ‘It’s great that health officials have seen sense over this, and listened to concerns that one of the legacies of the Olympics could be unwanted pregnancies.’

Campaigners praised by House of Lords

The news comes as a major report was published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual Health, chaired by Baroness Gould. Local MP Stella Creasy invited eight Walthamstow women to present their case to the Lords in a hearing on 22 May this year. Jenny Lennox spoke and represented Walthamstow women at the launch of the Report on Tuesday. Following this the report has made explicit recommendations about services in the Walthamstow area itself, highlighting the impact this campaign has had.

Speaking about the campaign local MP Stella Creasy said:

‘Listening to women in Walthamstow of all ages there was a real sense of frustration about the quality of service as well as the high levels of teen pregnancy, repeat abortion and sexually transmitted diseases we have here– that’s why working with these campaigners we started to gather evidence from residents about the impact of this on their lives. We wrote a compelling report about their experiences making the case for action and an end to the complacency that provision elsewhere in Waltham Forest was enough to meet these needs. For some time now too, we’ve been lobbying healthcare providers to meet with the women directly to understand how best to serve their needs as well as raising this in parliament. Whilst I welcome this new development I hope they will commit to doing this as soon as possible to show they are serious about serving the needs of all in Walthamstow now and in the future.

This is a real change in favour of the needs of women and girls in the area. But the battle is not quite over yet.’

Next steps: meeting NHS officials on 20 July

Local NHS officials have agreed to meet with the Walthamstow campaigners on Friday 20 July, to discuss their concerns. For more details, and to attend, please email Stella.
Pictured: Jenny Lennox and her baby, Baroness Gould, and Stella Creasy MP at the launch of the APPG Report on access to contraception 

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