A measure to make birth control pills more accessible in England has been welcomed by experts, but they say the provision of other highly effective methods, as well as counselling, must also be increased to ensure women’s needs are met.
The pills will be available on the NHS through main pharmacies from next month.
At the beginning of this year the professor Lesley Reganprominent gynecologist and ambassador for women’s health in England, warned that Women’s access to contraceptives had been worsening.resulting in an increase in unplanned pregnancies.
Some contraceptives also help with gynecological problems, including heavy periods and menopause, meaning poor access can have wider ramifications for women’s health.
The measure, announced on Thursday, goes further than a previous step taken in 2021. which made it possible for women to buy progestin-only (POP) pills without a prescription: The new announcement not only means that the supply is free, but also covers pills containing estrogen.
Dr Janet Barter, president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, said the organization was delighted with the announcement.
“Pharmacists are medicine experts and are well positioned to provide high-quality contraceptive care and advice,” she said.
“These changes will increase access and make it easier to access essential contraception at a time and place that is most convenient for them, giving women more autonomy over their lives, allowing them to decide if and when they want to become pregnant.”
But more needs to be done, he said.
“The pill is just one form of contraception and it is really important that we now look to increase access to all other forms of contraception. In particular to long-acting reversible contraceptives (Larcs) such as the coil and the implant, which are the most effective contraceptives available,” he said.
“We believe women should have access to the full range of contraceptive methods wherever they choose, regardless of where they live in the UK.”
Dr. Jenny Hall, clinical associate professor of reproductive health at University College London, agreed. “Making pills available in pharmacies will not reduce the need for Larcs and the provision of these services must also be prioritized,” she said.
One problem is that many Larcs require a trained healthcare provider to accommodate and many GPs do not offer the service. “It costs GPs more money to place a coil than the practice is paid to do it,” Hall said.
As a result, women who want such methods usually must visit a sexual health clinic and often experience long wait times. According to Herefordshire & Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust: “As of October 2023, the current waitlist for a routine coil or implant fitting is eight weeks to contact and then schedule an appointment within four weeks.”
Experts have also stressed that it is essential that women receive accurate information and advice on the full range of contraceptives available so that they can find the right method for them: not all want to use hormonal contraceptives, while some experience unacceptable side effects. Even among hormonal methods, what works well for one person may not be right for another.
“The pill is often the default option for women, and proper consideration of the range of options available can lead them to discover the method they would prefer,” Hall said. “As pharmacists cannot offer the full range of options, this discussion will not take place and women may be using a less effective or less suitable method, or may experience side effects and stop taking it, and still be at risk.” of suffering an unplanned pregnancy. “
Dr Rebecca French, associate professor of sexual and reproductive health research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was important for pharmacies to receive adequate funding and support to provide an improved service, noting it was also crucial that women had the opportunity. come back and discuss alternative options if they had side effects or other difficulties with oral contraceptives.
Kate Muir, author of the upcoming book Everything You Need to Know About the Pill, said one concern is the link between some oral contraceptives and conditions such as depressionparticularly in young women.
“When they ran the ad, they should have made a warning at the same time saying: ‘Women who don’t know what they want should go see their GP or a sexual health clinic.’ You deserve proper information and advice on contraception,’” she said. “People take the pill when they’re teenagers, basically when they’re out of school, and they should get proper consultation about what they’re doing.”
Hall said a more holistic approach was needed around contraceptive provision.
“Properly funding that service, with adequate staffing and training so that women have access to counseling and a variety of contraceptive options at a time and place convenient to them, including digitally, would actually be more cost-effective and acceptable to women and professionals.” Of the health. ,” she said.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Pharmacists are qualified to offer women advice on the most suitable contraceptive option for them. As well-trained doctors, pharmacists know when to advise women to speak to their GP or another NHS service, depending on clinical need. “The NHS decision to extend oral contraceptive services to pharmacies is good news for women and gives them more choice in how to access care.”