Of 106 readers who participated in the poll – which ran on the C+D website from November 29 to December 18 – 73% were against the proposal, with the remainder in support.
C+D commissioned the poll after charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) called last month for progestogen-based EHC to be reclassified from a pharmacy (P) to a GSL product, “so it can be sold directly from the shelf without a consultation, at a more affordable price”.
Since then, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has urged that these contraceptives should be available over the counter without the need for a pharmacist consultation.
In its report, ‘Better for women: improving the health and wellbeing of girls and women’, published on December 2, the organisation called on the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to reclassify oral EHC to GSL to “enable it to be sold straight off the shelf without consultation”.
Oral EHC should be made free of charge, continued the RCOG, which also called for prescription-only progestogen-only oral contraceptives to be reclassified as P products.
Although, unlike in England, EHC is already available free of charge in Scotland and Wales, the requirement in all three countries for a mandatory consultation with a pharmacist “adds a further barrier to access”, the RCOG said, “since many girls and women report that this consultation leaves them feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed or judged”.
“Many pharmacies display no information about EHC and do not have any dummy packets on their shelves,” the RCOG alleged, “yet they do display pregnancy tests, a wide range of condoms and even information about Viagra”.
C+D poll shows “strength of feeling”
Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley said: “C+D’s findings reflect the strength of feeling pharmacists have about the reclassification of EHC as GSL.
“Having a consultation with a pharmacist is focused on helping women who need emergency contraception. This would be absent if the product was bought off the shelf,” Ms Gidley said.
“As well as supporting the choice of emergency contraception that’s best for each woman, pharmacists can advise on future use of contraception and the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
“What we’d really like to see across the country are schemes to provide free emergency contraception through community pharmacy,” she added. “These already exist in Scotland and Wales and so should be extended to England too.
“Cost is a barrier to accessing medicines and it’s unacceptable that women in England still have to pay for emergency contraception.”
In October, the Company Chemists’ Association and the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies called on the government to commission a national EHC service in pharmacies.