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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK


'Emergency contraception should be easier to get'

Emergency contraception should be more available, say chemists

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), which represents chemists, wants the 'morning after pill' to be available without prescription to stem the tide of teenage pregnancy.

At present, a patient, whatever their age, must see their GP or go to a hospital casualty unit to get emergency contraceptive pills, which can be prescribed up to 48 hours after sex.

But pharmacists say that embarrassment and inconvenience stops sexually-active teenagers making appointment with family doctors, leading to many unwanted pregnancies.

'Restrictions should be lifted'

They want some of the restrictions on the sale of the pills lifted.

Speaking on the BBC's "Today" programme, Roger Odd, head of professional and scientific support at the RPS, said: "We have a lot of sexually-mature children in this country, who still need support to manage their lives.

"Perhaps through ignorance, accidents occur - what do these youngsters do? They have teenage pregnancies which are unwanted.

"We have a safe form of emergency contraception, which has been tested for safety by the World Health Organisation, and many leading gynaecologists and family planning doctors believe it could be made more widely available."

[ image: The morning after pill is only available through GPs and hospital A&E units]
The morning after pill is only available through GPs and hospital A&E units
However, Dr Bill O'Neill, from the British Medical Association, said he believed that simply making the medicine easier to get was not the answer.

He told the BBC: "It's not just a question of giving a packet of pills, it's about providing a whole range of services to young people.

GP can be visited in confidence

"We have got to make sure they know they know they can go and see their GP and see them in confidence."

A doctor's own professional rules forbid them from telling a child's parents about their medical problems unless the GP feels that the child is too immature to give the necessary consent to medical treatment.

But the General Medical Council advises that this judgement should be based on the level of maturity of the child, not simply their age.

Dr O'Neill said that young people asking for emergency contraception also needed to be given information about safe sex, not simply provided with medication.

He said: "We need to make sure that schools are involved in this, that emergency contraception is needed, that school nurses and teachers are liaising with local GPs."

Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe - six times that of the Netherlands - and the Governnment initiative aims to halve that in the next decade.

The"morning after pill" works by giving high doses of the female hormone oestrogen or both oestrogen and progesterone.

Can cause nausea and vomiting

The abrupt stopping of the dose when the pills wear off causes the inner lining of the womb to break down and shed in a similar manner to a normal period.

So even if an egg has been fertilized it cannot implant in the lining of the womb.

However, the "morning after pill" often causes nausea and vomiting.

Some doctors suggest that the copper Intra Uterine Device (IUD) as an alternative, as it can be inserted up to 120 hours after sexual intercourse. However this is not recommended in teenagers.

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