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  Good news for women: emergency contraception can be reclassified as a pharmacy medicine
By Ellie Lee
19/5/00

SENDYOUR COMMENTS ON ECP PHARMACY PROVISION TO THE MEDICINES CONTROL AGENCY CONSULTATION. SEE DETAILS LATER IN THIS COMMENTARY.

It was announced today that one form of emergency contraception, Levonelle 2, can be safely supplied by chemists. The announcement was made by the Government body, the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM). Schering Healthcare, which makes Levonelle 2, has applied for the product to be reclassified as a pharmacy medicine, which would end the current restrictions on the product where it is available only with a doctor's prescription. The reclassification application is to change the status of the product, making it available from pharmacies without prescription to women aged 16 and above.

The announcement was followed by the launch by the Medicines Control Agency of a six week public consultation period. Once the consultation period is over, the Medicines Commission will make a recommendation to health ministers in July. The public and other interested parties have been invited to give their views on the application. A Department of Health spokeswoman said ministers would not comment until the consultation period was over.

The news has been welcomed by groups working to improve women's reproductive health. BPAS director of communications Ann Furedi said: 'This is a tremendous step forward. It puts to bed allegations that it would be medically unsafe for pharmacists to sell emergency contraception without a prescription. Many of the women who attend BPAS abortion clinics would have used emergency contraception had they been able to get it more easily. Pharmacy provision would make obtaining after-sex contraception as easy as obtaining treatment for thrush or hayfever.'

She added :'The usual loud minority can be expected to make their moral objections but it is puzzling how anyone could, in good conscience, seek to thwart a woman who has had unprotected sex and wants to lessen her chance of an unwanted pregnancy.'

Predictably, groups opposed to women's choice have criticised the proposal. A spokesman for the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child said: 'This is not contraception - it is effectively a huge dose of hormones which causes abortion'. 'We are also concerned for the safety of the women and girls who take it. It can have serious side effects.' 'We are concerned that a busy pharmacist may not have time to go through the potential problems with a woman asking for this product, and may not pick up on dangers that a doctor would.''

Government ministers will need to make a final decision after considering the results of the consultation. As the CSM has unambiguously declared pharmacy supply to be safe, it is clear that their decision will be largely based on whether improving access to emergency contraception is socially desirable.

If Ministers decide to proceed with proposed reclassification. It would result in a situation where women over the age of 16 would be able to purchase ECPs from a pharmacist for approximately £10-£12 ($16-£25). ECPs would remain free to all women (including those under 16) on-prescription from a general practitioner or family planning doctor.

A copy of the consultation document can be found on the MCA website athttp://www.open.gov.uk/mca/mcahome.php. A list of who has been invited to take part is included, but members of the public may do so as well. More information is available from Emily Hands at the Department of Health Media Centre 020 7210 5553

Information about ECPs in the UK is available on the BPAS website atwww.bpas.org

Chemists could give emergency contraception without prescription, PA News, 19/5/00

'It's official: emergency contraception is safe for pharmacy sale', BPAS Press release, 19/5/00

'Chemist morning-after pill closer', BBC News Online, 19/5/00

 
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