news for women: emergency contraception can be reclassified
as a pharmacy medicine
By Ellie Lee
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,
'Chemist morning-after pill
closer', BBC News Online, 19/5/00