Community pharmacists across Scotland are now able to provide patients with a temporary three-month supply of desogestrel — a progesterone-only pill — without the need for a prescription from a GP.

Under the terms of the service, a three-month supply, comprising 84 desogestrel tablets, can be provided following an EHC consultation with a pharmacist, or — where no EHC is required — as a standalone temporary supply while women wait for longer-term contraceptive methods.

Patients will be advised to contact their GP practice or sexual health service for ongoing contraception.

This comes after a successful bridging contraception service pilot ran in pharmacies in Lothian and Tayside in April.

The service has been introduced for women between the ages of 15 and 55, to help to increase access to contraception and to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

A study, published in The Lancet last year (November 2020), found that enabling community pharmacists to supply women with a course of the POP alongside emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) increases the overall use of effective contraception.

The launch of the new service comes three months after the publication of a new Women’s Health Plan, in which the Scottish Government set out goals to ‘improve health outcomes and health services for all women and girls in Scotland’.

One long-term goal in the plan was to provide and promote a women’s health pharmacy service.

Another was to offer more routine sexual healthcare through community pharmacies and other primary care providers ‘to enable specialist sexual health services to prioritise those most at risk of sexual ill health or unintended pregnancy’.

Harry McQuillan, CEO of Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS), said: ‘Ultimately, this will improve the range of options and ease of access that the women of Scotland have when it comes to contraception, and we are delighted that our network of pharmacies can be part of this important step forward in women’s health.’

Maree Todd, women’s health minister, said: ‘We want Scotland to be a world leader when it comes to women’s health. The introduction of this service will increase the choice for women in how they can access contraception.’

She added: ‘I would also like to give recognition to pharmacists and pharmacy teams across Scotland who continue to play a fundamental role in helping patients and the wider NHS team by ensuring people get the right care in the right place despite the additional pressures they face.

‘Further enhancing the service the community pharmacy network offers through bridging contraception demonstrates its valuable role in our communities and in helping to address inequalities in health that women are facing.’

In July, the MHRA approved two progestogen-only pills for sale without a prescription from pharmacies in England.