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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 09:26 GMT
Pharmacies to widen pill access
The pill
The pill was launched in the UK in 1961
The government has played down reports that the contraceptive pill will be available over the counter.

It comes after health minister Lord Darzi said a pilot scheme would look at pharmacists offering the pill.

But the Department of Health said the scheme would involve training pharmacists in England to prescribe the pill in the same way a GP would.

Many campaigners welcomed the move to widen access, pointing out the UK has high rates of teenage pregnancy.

Figures are twice as high as in Germany, three times as high as in France and six times as high as in the Netherlands.

The pill is currently only available with a prescription, but pharmacies are able to dispense "the morning after pill" without a doctor's signature.

The Royal Society of Medicine has been pushing for easier access to oral contraceptives.

Lady Finlay, the society's president said: "We have this catastrophic tidal wave of teenage and unwanted pregnancies, we are the worst in Europe, we cannot ignore that."

She added chemists were fully capable of ensuring whether the contraceptive pill was right for a patient, and what type would suit her best.

Choice needed

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said pharmacies could play an increased role in the provision of contraception and other sexual health services, because of their accessibility and convenient opening hours.

There is no firm commitment to roll out the scheme nationally but any women receiving the contraceptive pill from a pharmacist would have to go through the same process if they were to receive it through a prescription issued by a GP, they said.

"We will work with the pharmacy profession to ensure robust standard setting and appropriate training to ensure pharmacists are competent to safely provide this service."

New initiatives to improve women's access to contraception are extremely welcome
Anne Weyman
FPA

Anne Weyman, the head of the Family Planning Association (FPA), said initiatives such as these were "extremely welcome".

But she warned: "It's absolutely essential however, that this initiative is part of a comprehensive and holistic approach to broaden women's access to all 14 methods of contraception and not just the pill.

"Otherwise women will find their contraceptive choices greatly diminished, rather than greatly enhanced."

But Dr Trevor Stammers, of the Family Education Trust, said: "The government is desperate to be seen to be doing something about the treatment of sexual health. The difficulty of this is it's based on wishful thinking.

"If you give a 14-year-old the pill she's going to get chlamydia and gonorrhoea from the boy who says that's all she needs to stop getting pregnant."

The contraceptive pill was introduced in this country in 1961, and is used by about 4m women.



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