Longer-lasting protection popular

Fewer patients in Northland are asking for condoms now alternative long-term contraceptive options have become available.

The number of patients opting for condom prescriptions has declined from 3900 to 2700 over the past five financial years, according to Pharmac figures on subsidised contraceptives.

Long-acting implants such as the Jadelle implant, inserted into the upper arm, have become popular with patients since they were subsidised in 2010.

Patient numbers rose from 400 at the end of the 2011 financial year to 600 last year.

Nationwide, the number of patients asking for subsidised contraceptives fell across all categories, including condoms, emergency contraceptives, oral contraceptives, implants, copper intra-uterine devices (IUD) and progestogen-only contraceptives.

The number asking for condom prescriptions dropped substantially from 97,200 in 2009 to 80,300 last year, and those asking for emergency contraceptives also fell from an estimated 63,400 to 48,000 over the same period.

Jadelle implants rose from 10,100 in 2011 to 13,600 the following year, but dropped back to 12,700 last year.

Whangarei GP Kyle Eggleton, who also works in a youth health clinic, said he had noticed an increasing number of patients requesting Jadelle implants, and a decrease in patients requesting IUDs, which were more invasive.

However, Jadelle caused side effects such as irregular bleeding and although staff were "putting in a lot, we're also taking out a lot as well. We see a lot of teenagers coming in and getting the Jadelle implant and then, months later, having problems, wanting to have the Jadelle taken out."

Another implant, Implanon, not currently funded by Pharmac, was believed to cause less severe side effects, he said.

He had not noticed any decrease in youth asking for condoms, but said fewer people were coming in asking for emergency contraceptives.

Family Planning national medical adviser Christine Roke said "fit and forget" long-acting contraceptives such as Jadelle implants had become popular with varying age groups nationwide, so a drop in other forms of contraceptives was expected as women made the switch.

She was surprised at the decrease in copper IUDs, but said it was possible more women preferred the unsubsidised product Mirena, which was not counted in the Pharmac statistics.

"We think it's still a shame that the Mirena - the hormone IUD - isn't subsidised, and it's just so much more expensive [so] Pharmac haven't been able to subsidise it."

A parliamentary health committee report from 2013 found between 40 and 60 per cent of all New Zealand pregnancies are unplanned.

The Pharmac figures cover medical prescriptions dispensed at community pharmacies, but do not include over-the-counter sold condoms or private sales of emergency contraceptives. It was possible for patients to have repeat prescriptions, so the number of contraceptives dispensed could be higher than the number of patients.