Touch to call us on 03457 30 40 30

Emergency Contraception needs urgent review

Emergency contraception must be reclassified and made available to buy straight from the shop shelf, bpas urges

  • Women in the UK pay up to £30 for the most basic form of emergency contraception (EC), up to 5 times more than in other European countries
  • One reason for the high price is the mandatory yet unnecessary and embarrassing consultation women must endure before being sold EC, which is kept firmly behind the counter
  • As sexual health services providing free EC face cuts, more women will have no choice but to purchase EC to avoid unplanned pregnancy
  • The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) believes EC should be reclassified as a General Sales List drug to enable it to be sold straight off the shelf without consultation, at a price women can afford
  • #justsaynon campaign launched today highlights the outrageously high price of EC in the UK compared to France and calls on women to reject what is the ultimate sexist surcharge

It is now 15 years since the progestogen-only emergency contraceptive Levonelle One Step (now also sold as Boots Emergency Contraceptive and Consilient) was first made available to women to buy from behind the counter in pharmacies after a consultation with a pharmacist. The price was deliberately inflated and a mandatory consultation introduced, apparently to prevent women from using it as a regular method of contraception. Since its introduction, the use of EC in the UK has barely changed and remains low,[1] despite the fact that most women rely on user-dependent methods such as condoms and daily pills and should feel able to use EC when these methods fail or are forgotten.

Research has found that around one third of British women have had unprotected sex in the last 12 months, and the majority (67%) did not use EC.[2] bpas regularly sees women experiencing unplanned pregnancy who were deterred from seeking EC because of the obstacles to access, including the price. bpas is calling for EC to be reclassified as a General Sales List medication so it can be placed on pharmacy selves for women to buy without consultation.

British women pay up to £30 for Levonelle, which is more than anywhere else in Europe with the exception of Ireland. In France, the equivalent product costs around €7 (£6).[3] While a number of factors influence the high price, the fact that women must undergo a consultation before being “allowed” EC - even though there are NO circumstances where it would be unsafe - is one reason why the price is so high. There are no contraindications to the use of progestogen-only EC and indeed it is considerably safer than many other medications available without consultation from the shelf, including painkillers, Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs) and digestive medications like proton pump inhibitors. 

Emergency contraception is available for free from GPs and sexual health clinics, but for many women this is not a practical option. Appointments are can be hard to obtain and services increasingly restricted amid cuts to public spending. ‎Some pharmacies take part in local programmes to provide EC free of charge, but they often serve only young women, the service is only available from certain pharmacies, and only when the pharmacist is on site.

‎There is no clinical reason for a woman to consult with a healthcare professional before she obtains EC, unless she wishes to. In many countries - including the US where women's reproductive healthcare is far more politicised - EC is available to purchase without consultation, straight from the shelf.

bpas is calling on the Department of Health to launch an urgent review of retail access to EC in order to ensure women have affordable, straightforward access to EC. The #justsaynon campaign, launched by the charity today, highlights the outrageous price of EC in UK by demonstrating that it may be cheaper for some women to fly to France to buy EC than purchase it on their local high street.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said:

"It is utterly stupid that we have made a medication which gives women a second chance of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy so hard to obtain. There is no financial justification for the high price of this pill, nor clinical reason for a consultation before it can be sold. People are trusted to use a wide variety of medications sold on the shelves of pharmacies in a sensible and appropriate way. Emergency contraception should be no different. It's time to ditch what is the ultimate sexist surcharge and put emergency contraception where it belongs - on the shelf, at a price women can afford."

ENDS

For more information please contact the bpas press office on 0207 061 3377  07788 725 185, or email press@bpas.org

Just Say Non campaign website here: http://www.justsaynon.org.uk/

1 Trends in the use of emergency contraception in Britain: evidence from the second and third National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Black et al, 2016

2 Use of and attitudes towards emergency contraception, Nappi et al, 2014

3 All figures from the European Consortium for Emergency Contraception: http://www.ec-ec.org/

 

ENDS

For more information please contact the bpas press office on 0207 061 3377  07788 725 185, or email press@bpas.org

Notes to Editors:

About bpas

bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org

 

[1] Trends in the use of emergency contraception in Britain: evidence from the second and third National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Black et al, 2016

[2] Use of and attitudes towards emergency contraception, Nappi et al, 2014

[3] All figures from the European Consortium for Emergency Contraception: http://www.ec-ec.org/