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Last Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007, 12:31 GMT
Over-the-counter pill plan debate
Image of the Pill
The pill is currently prescribed by GPs
Drug regulators are to consider making the pill available over-the-counter without a doctor's prescription.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will discuss the issue at a meeting on Tuesday.

Sexual health tests and medicines for controlling heavy periods will also be considered with the regulator saying it was keen to liberalise controls.

Doctors warned the MHRA it should proceed with caution because of potential side effects of the pill.

The pill can pose a risk to women who are vulnerable to thrombosis and if it is to be sold over the counter, pharmacists would be expected to check on women's medical history.

Patients can't be on drugs that their doctors don't know about, and the pharmacist would have to know about someone's history of thrombosis and high blood pressure before they prescribe the pill
Dr Nigel Sparrow, of the Royal College of GPs

Moves have already been made to widen access to some common drugs and health tests through pharmacists.

The morning-after pill was made available over-the-counter six years ago and in the last year Boots have been piloting chlamydia testing in its stores across London.

The meeting will look at whether this should be extended as well as whether the pill should be made over-the-counter.

Doctors, NHS managers, government officials and drug industry representatives will all be present.

The MHRA often hosts meetings such as this to establish consensus within the industry.

Consensus

A spokeswoman said: "In order to switch medicines you have to create the right climate. You have to get consensus."

If the MHRA did decide to push forward with a change, there would still need to be a consultation so it would be some time before changes were brought in.

Dr Nigel Sparrow, vice chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said any changes must be carefully thought through.

"The important thing is that records must be shared.

"Patients can't be on drugs that their doctors don't know about, and the pharmacist would have to know about someone's history of thrombosis and high blood pressure before they prescribe the pill."

Toni Belfield, director of information, fpa, formerly the Family Planning Association, refused to be drawn on whether she would be in favour of such a move.

But she added: "This is a good opportunity to review how women access contraception and to examine how other medicines are made available within pharmacies and local health services."

The MHRA is also set to announce a relaxation in the way in which drug companies can apply for changes in licences.

Ambitions to give pharmacists more control over prescribing are being hampered by the industry's reluctance to apply for different licences because of the red-tape involved, the MHRA said.




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