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Morning after pill
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The morning-after pill should be sold off the shelf, experts say

A report says that consulting a pharmacist can leave women and girls feeling ‘uncomfortable, embarrassed, or judged’

A report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends that women and girls should be able to access emergency contraception without the need for a consultation with a pharmacist.

The Better for Women report, which maintains that women’s health needs should be made a priority, suggests that there are too many barriers to health services for women in the UK, and that the morning-after-pill “should be sold straight off the shelf”, like condoms and pregnancy tests. It also calls for ‘one-stop shop’ health clinics for women to offer smear tests, contraceptives, and advice.

Currently, emergency contraception is only available in the UK if you seek a consultation with a pharmacist, which can leave women and girls feeling “uncomfortable, embarrassed, or judged,” the report says. 

While the morning-after-pill is available free of charge without prescription from all pharmacies in Scotland and Wales, contraception services are commissioned locally in England, meaning that pharmacies can charge up to £26 for the ‘luxury’. 

The survey included 3,000 women participants, where more than a third (37 per cent) said they could not get contraception services locally, and 60 per cent could not easily access unplanned pregnancy services, such as abortion care. The report suggests that last year’s all-time high level of abortions in England and Wales – 200,608 in 2018, a 4 per cent increase from last year – correlates with the lack of contraceptive access for women.

The report also suggests that cuts to public health budgets have made it more difficult for women to access the services they need. According to the BBC, nearly half of councils in England have plans to reduce contraception services. Experts also advocate for young people to be educated from an early age about women’s health, and women’s health issues such as menopause and chronic illnesses like endometriosis should be fully supported in workplaces.

Last week, an online pharmacy began selling emergency contraception for £3, prompting people to accuse high street pharmacists of overcharging. “The sale of the morning after pill for £3 illustrates just how cheap this medication is,” Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), told The Telegraph, “but women are still having to pay vastly over the odds for this pill at their time of need.”

She continued: “We believe emergency contraception belongs on the shelf of the pharmacy, not hidden away at the back, accessible only after a consultation. There is simply no reason why we should restrict access in the way we do when the stakes for women are so high – women know when they need it and should be trusted to use it.”