Women will be able to get birth control pills and implants directly from a pharmacist under new NHS plans.
The proposals mean that women will be able to access them without having to see a doctor first.
The current rules mean that pharmacists cannot prescribe birth control pills, insert an implant or carry out an annual inspection of birth control pills, but this will change under the pilot measures now being suggested. If approved, it could be introduced in England later this year.
said a spokesman for NHS England Independent the scheme was still being negotiated with the pharmaceutical industry and it was “a bit premature” to discuss plans until they were agreed.
It comes after reports that women face long delays in accessing long-acting contraceptives such as coils or an implant. Research shared only Independent last year revealed that nearly a third of women seeking them during the pandemic were unable to do so.
A remote sexual health research service called Preventx, which surveyed 500 women trying to access long-acting contraceptives, found that around three in 10 were unable to obtain them in the past year.
Of these women, seven percent said their inability to get one led them to turn to abortion services, while 12 percent said they were forced to take the “morning after” pill.
said Katherine O’Brien of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the UK’s leading abortion provider Independent welcomed the new proposals.
She added: “However, it is unclear how many pharmacies will choose to provide these services, and certainly some will be constrained by practicality and lack of space. Will there be, for example, a room that provides the degree of privacy needed for very intimate treatments?
“In the meantime, there is a simple intervention that can dramatically improve women’s access to contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancy – for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to reclassify emergency contraception so that it can be sold off the shelf as it is in many other European countries and in USA.
“This would allow pharmacists to focus on those who are asking for extra support and other methods of contraception, such as long-acting reversible contraceptives.”
Dr Janet Barter, president of the Division of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH), said she “fully” supported the plans, but warned pharmacists they needed adequate funding.
She added: “The fragmented sexual and reproductive healthcare system is very difficult for women to navigate, and successive cuts to public health budgets make it even more difficult for women to access the contraception they need.
“This move will make it easier for women to access the necessary contraception to avoid unplanned pregnancies and may also reduce unnecessary pressure on GPs. However, women must always have a choice of where to go for care so that access to contraception is increased, not further restricted.”
Dr Barter argued that pharmacies could “play a bigger role” in the delivery of sexual and reproductive health care services.
The pandemic has profoundly disrupted sexual health clinics, with services forced to close or operate limited clinics, while staff have been redeployed to work with Covid patients or forced to self-isolate.
This made it difficult for women to get a coil or implant as they required in-person visits which were largely put on hold as consultations were done remotely by phone or video call.