Updated 21st July: From today, the pill will be available over the counter at pharmacies in the UK and online. You can purchase it for one month, three months or six months and costs start at £8.95 for a month's prescription.
This story was originally published 9th July, 2021.
The progesterone-only oral contraceptive pill (desogestrel 75 micrograms) will soon be available to women in the UK without a prescription.
This comes after a reclassification of the progesterone-only pill by the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which was authorised on 8th July. That means that this particular kind of contraceptive pill can now be bought over the counter.
Women will have to have a consultation with a pharmacist before buying it, however.
The pharmaceutical company behind the launch, HRA Pharma, hopes this change will make it easier for some women to access and therefore use regular oral contraception, giving them more flexibility to make an appropriate choice for their personal circumstances and lifestyle.
The pill – now branded as ‘Hana’ – is the second most popular form of contraception in the UK, according to HRA Pharma, and when taken correctly is more than 99% effective.
In recent years, access to contraception in the UK has been affected by a combination of funding cuts and fragmented commissioning of sexual and reproductive services, as reported by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH).
Ever since the reorganisation of NHS services that followed the Health and Social Care Act in 2013, access to vital sexual health services has been patchy – from a lack of appointments and long waiting times to restricted free access to emergency contraception in some places.
This is because there has been no single organisation that can hold the local bodies which decide what care and services to spend money on accountable for how they choose to use their budget. RCOG and FSRH have been pushing back against this ever since, because women's health is not always prioritised at a local level.
The situation has only been made worse by the pandemic, with women facing further disruption to vital appointments and prescriptions, as reported by the FSRH members survey. This can lead to women relying on other, less effective contraception methods or not using contraception at all.
Dr Asha Kasliwal, president of FSRH, said in a statement that they fully support this change because it's something that they have been recommending for many years.
She goes on to say that "availability over the counter in pharmacies will make it easier for women to access essential contraception to avoid unplanned pregnancies during and beyond Covid-19. The fragmented Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare system is notoriously difficult for women to navigate, and successive cuts to Public Health budgets have made it harder for women to get the contraception they need."
However she sees this as only the first step: "Buying contraception should definitely not be the only solution. We are calling for these pills to be available to everyone for free in community pharmacies, as well as the reclassification of other contraceptives moving forward."
‘Hana’ will be available from pharmacies later this month. Every woman wanting to buy Hana from a pharmacy will be required to have a consultation with the pharmacist first to ensure it is appropriate to supply desogestrel, according to each woman’s specific situation. The pill as well as other contraceptive methods will still be available free of charge through your local GP.