Allowing emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) to be sold in non-pharmacy settings would be ‘to the detriment’ of patients, former Royal Pharmaceutical Society chair for England Thorrun Govind has told The Pharmacist.

This follows calls from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) earlier this month to reclassify oral emergency contraception from its current Pharmacy (P) category to a General Sales List (GSL) item.

And it comes as over-the-counter medicines manufacturer representative PAGB claimed that EHC would be ‘an ideal candidate’ for a possible P to GSL switch due to its ‘well-established safety profile’.

‘Ultimately, providing women with easier access to safe and effective emergency contraception not only encourages self-care but enables people to make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health,’ Michelle Riddalls, chief executive of PAGB, said in a statement last week.

Ms Riddalls encouraged manufacturers to apply to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) ‘to ensure that a data driven review can take place’.

But Ms Govind, who is a TV pharmacist and healthcare lawyer, told The Pharmacist that the ‘wealth of advice’ given by community pharmacists and ‘other considerations such as safeguarding’ should be taken into account when evaluating the called-for switch.

‘A move to GSL could actually impact the care for the most vulnerable,’ said Ms Govind.

She stressed that pharmacists often discuss contraception options with patients and can advise about the drug’s chances of success.

‘EHC is not for routine use, and it is also important that we provide the patient with realistic expectations about its efficacy,’ she told The Pharmacist.

‘A move to GLS would be to the detriment of patients.’

And she added that she would be ‘extremely concerned’ about ‘the level of sensitivity and privacy afforded to patients in some environments where GSL medicines are available’.

In a statement on 30 January, Dr Janet Barter, FSRH president said that the current mandatory consultation with a pharmacist 'can be very valuable', but can 'pose a barrier for some people, particularly on evenings, Sundays or national holidays when most pharmacies are shut'.

'At the end of the day, oral emergency contraception is a very safe medication. However, it must be taken within a window of three to five days, and the sooner it is taken the more effective it is. It really is of utmost importance that people can pick it up as soon as possible,' she added.

In its original position statement published 27 January, the FSRH said: ‘Oral emergency contraception is extremely safe, with only occasional minor side effects. It can be used by most women and forms an essential part of sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH).’

It added: ‘All individuals must have unimpeded access to this form of contraception at the time and place of need, with appropriate information or consultation.’

And it said that ‘detailed printed or digital information should be provided to everyone purchasing oral emergency contraception regardless of the location’.

‘This should include information on appropriateness of use, drug interactions, details of alternative methods of emergency contraception and signposting to online STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) testing and local SRH services,’ the FSRH added.

Under the FSRH’s proposal, pharmacies would still be able to supply the drug, and the FSRH stressed that GSL provision ‘should not replace any existing pathways to access free oral emergency contraception, and these should continue to be commissioned and expanded in order to promote good sexual health and safeguard equality of access for all’.

‘When obtained in a pharmacy, a discussion with a pharmacist may still be available. This could provide an opportunity for signposting into services where the preferred method of contraception and future contraception needs can be met, and for identification of any safeguarding concerns,’ the FSRH added.

‘However, if the pharmacist is not available, or if an individual does not wish to participate in such a conversation, this should not pose a barrier to being able to access oral emergency contraception.’

The FSRH represents 14,000 healthcare professionals in the UK, and its position on EHC has been officially endorsed by several organisations: The Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine (FPM), The Faculty of Public Health (FPH), The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), MSI Reproductive Choices, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service (NUPAS) and Brook.

The Pharmacist approached several other pharmacy bodies for comment, but they declined to do so.

The latest government figures show that over 5,000 community pharmacies in England have signed up to provide the Pharmacy Contraception Service, which allows pharmacists to initiate and manage ongoing prescriptions of routine oral contraception.