It is estimated that about 30% of pregnancies are unplanned. The effectiveness of the barrier method and oral contraceptive pills depends on their correct and consistent use. By contrast, the effectiveness of long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods does not depend on daily concordance. The uptake of LARC is low in Great Britain, at around 12% of women aged 16 to 49 in 2008 to 2009, compared with 25% for the oral contraceptive pill and 25% for male condoms.

Expert clinical opinion is that LARC methods may have a wider role in contraception and their increased uptake could help to reduce unintended pregnancy. The current limited use of LARC suggests that healthcare professionals need better guidance and training so that they can help women make an informed choice. Health providers and commissioners also need a clear understanding of the relative cost effectiveness of LARC compared with other methods of fertility control. Enabling women to make an informed choice about LARC and addressing women's preferences is an important objective of this guideline.

LARC is defined in this guideline as contraceptive methods that require administration less than once per cycle or month. Included in the category of LARC are:

  • copper intrauterine devices

  • progestogen-only intrauterine systems

  • progestogen-only injectable contraceptives

  • progestogen-only subdermal implants

The guideline offers the best-practice advice for all women of reproductive age who may wish to regulate their fertility by using LARC methods. It covers specific issues for the use of these methods during the menarche and before the menopause, and by particular groups, including women who have HIV, learning disabilities or physical disabilities, or are younger than 16 years.

Drug recommendations

The guideline will assume that prescribers will use a drug's summary of product characteristics to inform decisions made with individual patients.