UK to make oral contraceptives available OTC next month

OTC oral contraceptive

Starting next month, around half a million women will be able to get oral contraceptives from a pharmacy without seeing their doctor first, under changes introduced by NHS England.

The measures, introduced as part of the NHS Pharmacy First initiative and due to come into effect on 1st December, will apply to both first and repeat prescriptions and are designed to free up appointments at GP surgeries.

Some other medicines – including treatments for uncomplicated urinary infections and other conditions like sore throat, earache, sinusitis, infected insect bites, impetigo, shingles, and glue ear – are also being included in the scheme.

Pharmacy First was first announced in May and officially gets underway on 31st January 2024. It will bring England into line with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where pharmacy prescribing services for some conditions are already in place.

The plan is to free up 10 million GP consultations by the winter of 2024.

It has been agreed after months of negotiation between government, the NHS, and industry body Community Pharmacy England (CPE), and will see participating pharmacies receive £1,000 per month plus £15 per consultation, with a £2,000 sign-up payment if they join the scheme before the end of January.

The plans also include an increase in the number of blood pressure checks given to at-risk patients over the next year, part of a commitment to deliver 2.5 million a year by the spring of 2025, which would be a big increase on the 900,000 carried out in 2022.

NHS England estimates that could prevent more than 1,350 heart attacks and strokes in the first year.

Newly-appointed Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins, said the changes “will mean more options for women when making a choice about their preferred contraception, reduce the risks of people suffering heart attacks and strokes, and make it easier to access medicines for common conditions.”

One pharmacy group, the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) said in a post on X (formerly Twitter), however, that while Pharmacy First is very welcome, “unless the shortfall in pharmacy core funding is addressed, more pharmacies will continue to close and less will be available to deliver these valuable services for the NHS.”

CPE's chief executive, Janet Morrison, said that “the investment in these services is desperately needed and welcome: pharmacies want to offer these services, and in future we hope to see pharmacies getting even more support, with more services available and independent prescribing commonplace.”

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