Allowing community pharmacists to supply women with a course of the progestogen-only pill along with emergency contraception [EC] increases overall use of effective contraception, a study has found.

A study published in The Lancet (14 November) looked at the long-term impact of pharmacies supplying women who needed EC with an additional three-month supply of the progestogen-only pill, to see whether pharmacists’ intervention would increase subsequent use of effective contraception.

The current advice for women in the UK, issued by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), is that they should start regular hormonal contraception immediately after EC. This is because women who have unprotected sex after receiving EC are up to three times more likely to get pregnant than women who do not, the guidance states.

However, most women in the UK cannot access long-term contraception from their pharmacy and instead have to visit a contraceptive provider, such as their GP or a sexual health clinic, which the researchers said may disincentise women.

Attending a GP of sexual health clinical appointment 'takes time and women might lose motivation to seek contraception and the risk for unintended pregnancy increases,' the report said.

The authors of the study conducted the trial in 29 pharmacies across the UK and identified 636 women to take part.

Community pharmacists gave 316 women who came into the pharmacy for EC a three-month supply of the progestogen-only pill, as well asa rapid access card to a participating sexual and reproductive health clinic, while 320 control patients were only advised by their pharmacist to attend their usual contraceptive provider.

The research found that women who had received a three-month supply of the progestogen-only pill from their community pharmacist were 20% more likely to be on contraception four months’ later than the women who were redirected to their GP.

The researchers also concluded that giving community pharmacists the power to dispense the progestogen-only pill without a prescription from a GP could help to prevent unintended pregnancies.

Back in September, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sexual and Reproductive Health in the UK recommended that the progestogen-only pill be reclassified as an over the counter medicine (OTC).

The authors of the APPG report Women's Lives, Women's Rights said that there was a significant opportunity to expand the role of community pharmacists in supplying the pill.

The report said that making the drug available OTC without the need for a prescription would not only benefit women and the provider, but it can also ‘encourage the use of contraception and as a result, may help reduce unintended pregnancies’.