Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Pill to be given out by chemists

The pill
The pill was launched in the UK in 1961

A pilot scheme allowing pharmacists to give women the contraceptive pill without a prescription has been given the go-ahead for next year.

Women and girls aged over 16 will be able to get the pill at two London primary care trusts, Southwark and Lewisham, Pulse magazine says.

If the pilots are successful, the pill could become available over the counter like the morning after pill.

Officials say this might help reduce the UK's high teen pregnancies.

Although the teenage pregnancy rate in Britain is falling in many areas, it remains the highest in Western Europe.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "We want to improve women's access to contraception and help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies without undermining patient safety.

"Pilots like these will help to show whether supplying contraception through pharmacies is effective in reducing unintended pregnancies."

Wider access

She said the department had invested an additional 26.8m to the project and would be working with strategic health authorities to assess the success of the schemes in their areas.

She added: "Any woman who receives contraception from a pharmacy without a prescription can still expect a full consultation with a health professional such as pharmacist or a nurse."

Pharmacists will offer the pill under an arrangement called a patient group direction - a kind of mass prescription where a doctor authorises other health professionals to supply a product to a certain group of patients.

There is no evidence to show that increasing young people's access to contraception results in lower teenage conception rates or reduces abortion rates
Family Education Trust

Health minister Lord Darzi insisted last year that "robust" standards would be put in place to ensure staff were up to the job.

Currently, the pill is only available via a prescription from a GP or family planning doctor.

Julie Bentley, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, said: "Women want to get their contraception from a health professional, at a time and a place that's convenient to them and without unnecessary delays.

"Pharmacists are highly skilled professionals. With the right training and clinical support, they are well placed to conduct consultations with women, ensure patient safety and prescribe the pill in the same way that nurses already do."

A spokesman from the Family Education Trust said the initiative showed the government was "more interested in getting young people to use contraception" than it was in "discouraging them from engaging in sexual activity in the first place".

He added: "There is no evidence to show that increasing young people's access to contraception results in lower teenage conception rates or reduces abortion rates."

But Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: "Teen pregnancies are at their lowest for 20 years, and studies show that this is largely due to much easier access to contraception for young people."

Colette McCreedy, chief pharmacist at the National Pharmacy Association, said: "There is no doubt in my mind that pharmacists have the capability and competence to help with women's health issues including prescribing medicines."

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