Should The Pill Be Available Over The Counter?
To get the Pill, or most other forms of non-permanent contraception, a woman has to book a doctor's appointment and/or collect a prescription from a pharmacy every few months. Is this process really necessary?
We already have emergency contraception such as EllaOne available over the counter, which has been the case since 2001, so why not the regular Pill too? There are pros and cons to making the Pill available over the counter (OTC):
Some Pros Are:
Fewer doctor appointments
With our NHS under increasing strain, forcing women who are happy with their contraception and who are in good health to frequently attend the surgery is a waste of resources.
Less emergency contraception
Ash Sone, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, says that the UK has run pilot schemes in London and Manchester for hormonal contraception available OTC. The results showed a drop in the use of emergency contraception, which can only be a positive step.
Pharmacists are underused
Pharmacists are trained health professionals. They are able to ask in-depth questions about the suitability of the pill for each woman, along with raising other health issues such as smoking or obesity. The NHS could take advantage of that.
Clare Murphy of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) believes that providing oral contraceptive OTC is a move that will help women. She says 'Birth control pills are incredibly safe and they're entirely the kind of thing that could be sold by a pharmacist.'
It's simple and hassle-free for patients
Taking time off work is inconvenient, and sometimes impossible. Weekend appointments are not available, so what's the alternative? A gap in cover that leads to an unwanted pregnancy?
In the United States Oregon offers OTC hormonal contraception. Women are able to speak with a specifically trained pharmacist who can then prescribe the pill if it's suitable. California is looking to do the same in March.
What about teenage girls?
Some worry that easy access to contraception will encourage underage sex but, whether society likes it or not, in the UK 27% of girls and 22% of boys have sex under the age of 16.
If teens prefer the advice of a pharmacist who has no connection to them, rather than the family doctor who they believe may inform their parents, OTC pills could help reduce the teenage pregnancy rate and enable those who have decided to have underage sex make a protected decision.
And The Cons?
Not always the most suitable contraception
Experts point out there are 15 types of contraceptive available, and the pill may not be the best choice for some women. "Assessing women for contraception is an excellent opportunity for addressing their sexual health as a whole," says sexual health doctor Verity Sullivan.
Missing out on a thorough check-up
Sullivan also believes that women may not get the best medical care from a pharmacist.
Although the pill is generally seen as safe, there are potential side effects, particularly for smokers, the obese, and the over-35s. There have been cases of blood clots in the media recently and these issues are more likely to be picked up by a GP familiar with a patient's medical history.
A rise in STIs?
If women are able to easily access the pill it could lead to a rise in STIs.
Condoms are the only available contraception that prevents STI infection, and with the current rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as a new strain of gonorrhoea, making the Pill as accessible as condoms should be approached with caution.