About £1 billion could be saved over 15 years if the NHS in England invested more in contraceptive services and improved access to abortion, campaigners said today.

The Family Planning Association (fpa) said women needed to be offered a greater choice of contraceptive methods and have quicker access to abortions when necessary.

The call came at the start of Sexual Health Week as campaigners stepped up efforts to improve services and public awareness.

Research for the fpa found that by changing contraceptive prescribing patterns and raising the profile of different methods, unwanted pregnancies would fall and costs of abortion and maternity services would be cut by £500 million over 15 years.

This would mean annual savings of around £33 million.

The fpa said the methods of contraception routinely offered to women - such as the contraceptive Pill and condoms - did not always meet their needs.

It said that if women's true preferences were reflected, there would be an increase in other methods such as contraceptive hormone injections and intrauterine system (IUS) - where plastic device which contains a progestogen hormone is placed in the womb.

Once these methods are fitted, women do not have to think about contraception or remember to take a pill. They can remain effective for up to five years.

Anne Weyman, chief executive of fpa, said: "The research sends a clear and urgent message to chief executives of PCTs that they must champion fertility choices and invest to save.

"A comprehensive review of contraceptive and abortion services could save the NHS over £60 million a year, not only in these specific areas but across related sectors.

"Cutting corners in service provision is a false economy."

Ms Weyman said about 80 per cent of women obtained their contraception from their GP, who were often unable to offer many of the longer acting methods.

" PCTs should urgently review GPs training and ongoing support, especially for methods such as implants, IUDs and the IUS.

"There is also a real lack of knowledge among women about all their contraceptive options," she said.

Ms Weyman said that it was also possible for PCTs to bring down waiting times for abortions by ten days.

"Many PCTs have already made good progress in bringing waiting times down and we urge the rest to assess how they can implement systematic changes across these services.

"All PCTs must increase women's choices by ensuring that women know about the different methods of early abortion and provide the services needed."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are working hard to reduce the demand for abortions by improving access to contraception and have committed an extra £40 million to improve access to contraceptive services - part of the £300 million for sexual health announced in our Public Health White Paper.

"Improving access to a wide variety of contraceptive methods is an important part of the Government's strategy to reduce the numbers of unintended pregnancies, including teenage pregnancies.

"However, the Government does not promote any one method of contraception in preference to others.

"The type of method used should be chosen by the women, in consultation with a health care professional.

"We want to ensure that all women who are legally entitled to an abortion have early access to treatment."