Women in England will be able to obtain the contraceptive pill directly from their local pharmacy without requiring a GP referral as of next month.  

To access the service, women can visit participating pharmacies for a confidential consultation with a pharmacist, who can make shared decisions with the person regarding their initial or ongoing supply of the contraceptive pill. For combined oral hormonal contraception, body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure measurements will be taken during the consultation. 

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This NHS announcement comes over two years after the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) allowed two brands, Hana and Lovima, to be made available over the counter without a prescription. These contraceptive pills contained synthetic progesterone. The latest announcement covers combination pills that consist of synthetic estrogen and progesterone. The combined pill wasn’t included in the 2021 announcement, due to risks associated with the contraception to smokers aged over 35 years. 

Making the pill available to purchase over the counter (OTC) at pharmacies is expected to improve access to contraception for women who struggle to obtain it through traditional avenues, such as their GP or sexual health clinics. 

According to Ben Morris, a pharmacist who took part in a pilot of the scheme, anecdotal feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

In the announcement accompanying the service, Morris highlighted the speed of the service, saying: “Even with the combined pill, where we need to take blood pressure, height, and weight, it’s quick, including when people first register. When it’s progesterone only, where we don’t have to do the tests like with the combined pill, it’s even quicker.” 

Across the Atlantic, the first OTC birth control pill Opill (norgestrel) was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in July 2023. This marked a milestone after continued calls from charities and organisations in the US to bring birth control pills out from behind the pharmacy counter.