The contraceptive pill will be available to buy over the counter at UK pharmacies for the first time after a landmark ruling from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Hana and Lovima, two brands of pill containing desogestrel – a synthetic progesterone – will be available to buy without a prescription, but after a brief consultation with a pharmacist.

Combined oral contraceptives containing oestrogen and progesterone will still require a prescription, as they carry risks to smokers aged over 35 that potentially outweigh their benefits.

MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said the decision was “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,” she said.

“We have consulted a wide range of people to enable us to reach the decision to make this contraceptive available for the first time in the UK without prescription. We received many responses to our consultation, the majority of which supported this approach.”

Access to contraception

While oral contraceptives are available free-of-charge on prescription, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for people to access the contraception they need.

An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health in September found that women in England are facing difficulty in accessing contraception, and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation.

Making the pill available to purchase at pharmacies will improve access to contraception for women who are struggling to obtain it through traditional avenues, such as their GP or sexual health clinics.

President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr Edward Morris commented: “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 the progestogen-only oral contraceptive pill more easily and conveniently will give them more control over their reproductive health, which can only be a good thing.”

Pill prices

Maxwellia, the company that produces Lovima, said the pill would be priced at around £10 per month.

According to the Guardian, Hana will cost between £9.95 for one month and £21.95 for three.

The MHRA said it had consulted patients, pharmacists, prescribers and a wide range of stakeholders including the Royal College of Gynaecologists, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and British Pregnancy Advisory Service, as part of the decision-making process.