Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and services remain essential during a pandemic. In Scotland, as elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic led to redeployment of SRH staff, repurposing of laboratory facilities, and contraction/pausing of some services, particularly testing and prevention. At the same time many services rapidly pivoted to telehealth, primarily service provision by phone and, to a lesser extent, online provision. The Government recovery plan, Reset and Rebuild2, outlines key early impacts of the pandemic, including: near cessation of very long acting methods of contraception (vLARC) insertions; reduction in HIV testing across specialist sexual health services; complete cessation of outreach blood-borne virus (BBV) testing in the community; and reduction in HIV PrEP (HIV Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) prescription. Routine surveillance (including on HIV, viral hepatitis and STIs regarding diagnosis and testing) was paused due to staff redeployment and was still not reinstated at time of completing this report (January 2022). This means we do not know the impact of service contraction on testing and diagnosis of BBV. Population-level behavioural data is important since the impact depends in part on changes in partner mixing and sexual behaviour.
This report provides Scotland-specific data on sexual behaviour, and sexual and reproductive health during the first year of the COVID pandemic. It contributes population-level evidence to support the process of rebuilding sexual and reproductive health services in Scotland and planning for the next Sexual Health Framework.
Data come from wave 2 of the Natsal COVID study, a web-based panel survey of 6,658 participants across Britain. The study was led by the team responsible for the British National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (www.natsal.ac.uk). Fieldwork for the fourth Natsal survey was paused in 2020 because of the pandemic and an online survey – Natsal COVID – was launched specifically to understand the impact of COVID on sexual behaviour, relationships and service use. Of the study sample, 573 participants were from Scotland and are the focus of this report.
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Riddell, J., Conolly, A., Willis, M., Dema, E., Baxter, A., Bosó Pérez, R., Clifton, S., Sonnenberg, P., Mercer, C., Field, N. & Mitchell, K. 2022, Sexual and reproductive health in Scotland during the first year of the COVID pandemic (March 2020-March 2021), Natsal COVID-19 Study. Available at: http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/268405/