The morning after pill should be made available ‘off the shelf’ and without a consultation with a pharmacist, a report has recommended.
The ‘Better for women’ report, published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) yesterday (2 December), called for emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) to be made more accessible.
It said: ‘The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) should ensure that oral EHC is reclassified to the general sales list to enable it to be sold straight off the shelf without consultation.
‘It should be made available, free of charge, over the counter throughout the UK.’
Currently, EHC is available without a prescription and free of charge from all pharmacies in Scotland and Wales.
The requirement in England for a consultation with a pharmacist is a ‘barrier to access’ – alongside the cost of EHC – because it leaves patients feeling ‘uncomfortable, embarrassed or judged’, according to the report.
Prescription ‘serves as barrier’
The progestogen-only contraceptive pill (POP) should also be reclassified from ‘prescription only’ to ‘pharmacy product’ because of its ‘long safety track-record’ and be available for order online, the report added.
The requirement for a prescription ‘serves as a barrier’ to starting and continuing to use oral contraceptives, it said.
The report added: ‘The need for contraception does not require a diagnosis to be made. Women using contraception are not ill and do not have a disease that requires regular monitoring.’
The POP ‘meets all the requirements’ for an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine because it is simple to take, effective and has fewer contraindications and health risks than combined oral contraception containing oestrogen, it said.
‘Unacceptable’ that ECH is not free in England
President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) Sandra Gidley said: ‘Having a consultation with a pharmacist is focused on helping women who need emergency contraception.
‘There are several methods of emergency contraception available to women and as well as supporting the choice that’s best for her situation, pharmacists can advise on future use of contraception and the risk of sexually transmitted infections.’
However, she added that the RPS ‘fully supports’ NHS schemes that provide access to emergency contraception free of charge from community pharmacies.
Ms Gidley said: ‘These services already exist in Scotland and Wales and it’s unacceptable that women in England still have to pay.
‘We want to see this scheme extended across England so women get better access to emergency contraception.’