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Morning after pill should be available from petrol stations, say medics

NHS & health news

Morning after pill should be available from petrol stations, say medics

A position statement authored by sexual health doctors and supported by a range of medical bodies calls on policymakers to make oral emergency contraception available to consumers in “general retail outlets” like petrol stations, removing the requirement for a consultation with a pharmacist.

The position statement, which was published on January 26 by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), calls for oral emergency contraception products to be reclassified from Pharmacy medicine to General Sales List status.

“This would enable oral emergency contraception to be purchased from general retail outlets, including pharmacies, without the need for a consultation,” said the FSRH, although it added that “a discussion with a pharmacist may still be available”.

A subsequent press release was more explicit, saying a switch would allow oral EHC to be purchased in outlets ranging “from supermarkets to petrol stations”. This would bring the UK in line with the United States and some Scandinavian countries.

The position paper states that emergency contraception is “extremely safe” with only “occasional minor side effects, going on to say that women “must have unimpeded access” to EHC as and when they need it.

The FSRH said that while a consultation with a pharmacist can be useful for identifying safeguarding concerns or signposting patients, “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”.

Digital or printed information “should be provided to everyone purchasing oral emergency contraception regardless of the location,” it added.

The FSRH sits within the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and represents 13,981 family planning and sexual health professionals, the vast majority of which are doctors and nurses. Its position statement has been endorsed by eight organisations, including the RCOG, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).

Commenting that access to contraception is “a basic human right,” FSRH president Dr Janet Barter said: “We believe that the reclassification of oral emergency contraception from a pharmacy medicine to general sales list would be an enormous step forward, giving people autonomy and empowering them to make the right decision for themselves.

“The next important step in the process would be to make it free for everyone.”

Dr Barton said that while pharmacist consultations “can be very valuable,” the current requirements “pose a barrier for some people, particularly on evenings, Sundays or national holidays when most pharmacies are shut”.

She said that as EHC is more effective the sooner it is taken after unprotected sex, “it really is of utmost importance that people can pick it up as soon as possible”.

Expressing her organisation’s support for the FSRH statement, BPAS campaigns director Georgina O’Reilly said: “As cost-of-living pressures mount, abortion rates reach record highs, and birth rates record lows – it is more important than ever before that women are provided with swift and effective access to contraceptive choice. There needs to be a revolution in contraceptive innovation - swift and barrier-free access to emergency contraception is absolutely vital to this.”

MS O’Reilly said that arguments to keep the mandatory consultation rules “do not stack up,” explaining that mystery shopper studies “have repeatedly shown that advice about contraception is not provided in more than half of consultations”.

“Pharmacists should always be available to discuss contraceptive options, but this should be on the woman’s terms and without fear of embarrassment,” she added.

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