Women can now buy the contraceptive pill over the counter for the first time in 60 years, as the plan is given the green light by regulators.
The progesterone-only pill will be available in pharmacies from later this month without a prescription.
Women will be able to buy the pills, containing desogestrel, after a consultation with a pharmacist, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has announced following a consultation.
Contraceptive pills will still be available free of charge from a GP and sexual health clinics, the regulator said, but the change will provide women with greater choice and flexibility in accessing contraception.
The landmark reclassification includes two products, Lovima 75 and Hana 75 tablets, manufactured by Maxwellia and HRA Pharma, respectively, which applied for the reclassification.
The Hana pill will be sold in one month packs costing £9.95 – around 60p more than the standard NHS prescription charge – and three month packs at £21.95, HRA Pharma said. Lovima will be available from UK pharmacies, including Superdrug and Lloyds, from the end of July and will retail around £10 per month.
Once-a-day progestogen-only pills prevent pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix to stop sperm reaching an egg, according to NHS England. The desogestrel progestogen-only pill can also stop ovulation.
‘Huge win’ for women
Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said the announcement was a “huge win” for women and girls “who will no longer face unnecessary barriers when accessing this type of contraception”.
“Even before the pandemic, too many women and girls were struggling to access basic women’s health services. The consequences of this include an increase in the number of unplanned pregnancies, which can result in poorer outcomes for women and their babies.
“Enabling women and girls to access [these pills] more easily and conveniently will give them more control over their reproductive health, which can only be a good thing.”
Around 3.5 million women in the UK take some form of oral contraceptive. Almost half (48 per cent) of women say they would be deterred from getting contraception because it’s too difficult, time consuming, or inconvenient to get a GP appointment, according to a survey by Lovima.
More than two fifths (44 per cent) of the respondents, aged 18-55, said they would be willing to pay to get contraception if they needed it more quickly.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) also welcomed the move which will increase access to “safe and effective” contraception through pharmacists, who are “a convenient, expert source of help and advice”.
But Robbie Turner, director of pharmacy at RPS, added an affordability issue remained for some women and called for contraception to be provided for free through NHS community pharmacy services.
Dr June Raine CBE, chief executive, MHRA, said the consultation heard from a wide range of people to inform the decision and they will continue to listen and engage with patients to improve access to medicines.
Out of almost 500 responses received in the consultation 80 per cent were in favour of the reclassification.
“This is good news for women and families. Pharmacists have the expertise to advise women on whether desogestrel is an appropriate and safe oral contraceptive pill for them to use and to give women the information they need, to make informed choices,” Dr Raine said.
Global contraception rates have increased by just 6% in 25 years GHS
Anna Maxwell, founder and CEO of Maxwellia, a promoter of self-care, said the reclassification was “game-changing” for women.
“It is clear that the limited and restricted way women can currently access contraception isn’t working for many of them,” she said.
“When the contraceptive pill was first made available in the UK 60 years ago this year, doctors were only allowed to prescribe it to married women.”
“This is 2021,” Ms Maxwell said, adding that they have “liberated” the Lovima pill from prescription status to allow “woman can live the lifestyle they want”.
Frédérique Welgryn, chief strategic operations & innovation officer, HRA Pharma said: “We firmly believe that regular contraception should be widely and easily accessible to women, allowing them to make contraceptive decisions on their own terms."