Reclassifying oral contraceptives

In-depth

Reclassifying oral contraceptives

In-depth

The POM to P switch of an oral contraceptive pill could open doors to ease access and improve self care for women

A reclassification of the progestogen-only contraceptive pill (desogestrel) has been put out to public consultation by the MHRA in a move to make the Lovima and Hana brands, manufactured by Maxwellia and HRA Pharma respectively, pharmacy-only medicines. If passed, this will be the first time that forms of daily contraception will have ever been available to purchase from a pharmacy without a prescription.

In preparation for the potential switch, both companies are said to have produced a pharmacy training guide and a checklist for completion by the woman prior to consultation that can be used “as an aide for the pharmacist in determining if the medicine is suitable for supply”.

Ease of access?

The potential reclassification of desogestrel – the most commonly prescribed progestogen-only oral contraceptive pill in the UK – has been broadly welcomed by health organisations and charities. Michelle Riddalls, CEO of the consumer healthcare association PAGB, commented on this “positive step” that would enable “people to self care where appropriate, minimising inconvenience for individuals and protecting NHS resources such as GP appointments for those who need them most”.

Clare Murphy, chief executive of the family planning charity BPAS, voiced the organisation’s support, but also highlighted concerns over the pill’s affordability and the need for a swift, straightforward consultation. “We should learn the lessons from the transition of emergency contraception to a pharmacy medication in the early 2000s, in which the price of the pill was set high and the consultation overly intrusive, and ensure the provision of this pills is as accessible and affordable for as many women as possible,” she said.

Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, added: “Whilst this classification is a positive move, ultimately we’d like to see contraceptive services commissioned by the NHS through pharmacies so many more people can benefit from another point of access to contraception and advice.”

Supporting self care

This consultation reflects changing public attitudes to healthcare services and a growing interest in self care facilitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to research from the PAGB after the first national lockdown in March 2020, 86 per cent of people agreed that GP and A&E appointments should only be used when essential and 31 per cent of people who would not have visited a pharmacy for advice before seeking help elsewhere said they were now more likely to do so.

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