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‘Santa comes but once a year… but that’s all it takes!’: Over the festive season, BPAS prescribes free emergency contraception to keep at home

Published 28 November 2008


The closure of high street pharmacies, family planning clinics and GP surgeries over the Christmas holidays can pose serious problems for women after contraceptive failure, putting them at risk of unintended pregnancy.

For this reason, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) will be prescribing emergency hormonal contraception (the ‘morning after pill’) for women to keep at home in advance of need, free of charge from our clinics in Birmingham,  Bournemouth, Brighton, Cardiff, Coventry, Leeds, London, Luton, Peterborough and Swindon from December 1st.

Holiday opening hours make it harder for women to access their usual contraceptive supplies and they also leave women vulnerable to unintended pregnancy if a condom splits, they forget to take a pill, or they have unprotected sex. Emergency hormonal contraception (the ‘morning after pill’), is 90% more effective at preventing pregnancy if taken in the first 12 hours after unprotected sex. During the Christmas period this often becomes extremely hard for women to access at all within the 72-hour window of efficacy.

Emergency contraception over-the-counter also costs around £26 from a high street pharmacy, putting it financially out of the reach of some women. BPAS will prescribe emergency contraception free of charge in advance for women to take away and keep at home in case of need, so they can have it by them during the most effective time- within the first 12 hours.

During a consultation with a healthcare professional about their regular contraceptive method, women will receive a BPAS holiday pack, containing:

condoms to protect against STIs

one dose of the emergency hormonal contraceptive (‘morning-after’) pill

a leaflet explaining what their options are in case the pill doesn’t work

a leaflet giving information on BPAS on-line sexual health services which are available 24/7

Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said today: 

‘Sex isn’t always planned or prepared for. It’s easy to get carried away, which is why we advise women to back up their birth control by keeping the morning after pill at home. You don’t wait until you get a headache to buy your pain relief, why wait until you’ve risked pregnancy to get the morning after pill? The BPAS holiday pack is our Christmas gift to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies in the New Year.’ 


BPAS, (the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) is a registered charity since 1968, and the UK’s leading not-for-profit sexual healthcare provider. More than 90% of BPAS’ services are carried out under contract to the NHS. Please see for further information or for more information about free emergency contraception.

Women seeking the emergency contraceptive pill (EC), either in advance or in case of immediate need, can drop-in to participating BPAS clinics in England and Wales or call 08457 30 40 30 to find their nearest BPAS clinic.

EC can be used up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, but is most effective if taken within the first 12 hours. Free prescription of EC will run from 1st December while stocks last, in BPAS Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cardiff, Coventry, Leeds, London, Luton, Peterborough and Swindon. 

EC is also available as an emergency purchase over-the-counter from high street pharmacies at a cost of around £26, a cost which can put it out of reach of younger or less well-off women. GPs and family planning clinics may offer EC for free in an emergency, but may require an appointment to be made, which can take women beyond the time-frame within which EC is effective. These services only rarely prescribe EC in advance of need. 

EC can be up to 50% more effective if taken within the first 12 hours after unprotected sex.According to the Family Planning Association of pregnancies that could have occurred if no emergency contraception had been used, EC will prevent:

  • up to 95 per cent of pregnancies if taken within 24 hours,
  • up to 85 per cent if taken between 25-48 hours, and
  • up to 58 per cent if taken between 49-72 hours.

EC is not recommended as a replacement for regular forms of contraception because it is less effective than regular contraception, however according to the World Health Organisation, ‘repeated use poses no known health risks.’

Barrier contraceptive methods (such as condoms) are necessary to protect against sexually-transmitted infections.

EC can prevent pregnancy, but will not cause an abortion if the woman is pregnant.

Advance prescribing of EC has the support of the Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care (FFPRHC) of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

No method of contraception is 100% effective. American researchers recently found the ‘typical use’ failure rate of the condom to be 15%, compared to a 2% failure rate with ‘perfect use’. The ‘real world’ failure rate of the contraceptive pill is 8%. (See Table 2 of ‘Reducing Unintended Pregnancy in the United States’Contraception’, Editorial January 2008, Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.

For more information, to request an interview with the BPAS Chief Executive Ann Furedi, or a local BPAS clinic manager, or to request a hi-res PDF image of the poster for publication, please contact the BPAS press office on 020 7612 0206 or 07788 725 185.

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