Thousands of women across England will soon be able to get the contraceptive pill at their local pharmacy without needing to contact their GP first.
From next month, pharmacies across the country will begin offering the new service for the first time, increasing choice for women in the ways in which they can access contraception.
The rollout is part of the government and the NHS’s primary care access recovery plan, which committed to making it quicker and easier for millions of people to access healthcare on their high street.
How does the service work?
Anyone needing the pill can access it through participating pharmacies without a referral from their GP, though they can be referred by their general practice or sexual health clinic.
The pharmacist will offer a confidential consultation and reach a shared decision with the person about their first supply of the pill, or the ongoing supply of their current oral contraception. The supply of oral contraception will be free.
What checks will I need?
For a combined oral hormonal contraception, a BMI and blood pressure measurement will need to be taken. These can be taken as part of the consultation within the pharmacy.
A person accessing the service may also offer their own weight, height and blood pressure measurements. Any self-reported measurements will need to be recorded as such.
Extensive training for pharmacists
Priya Littler is a pharmacist in Portsmouth and took part in a pilot of the service at the beginning of 2022. The pharmacy has seven branches across the city and all participated.
She said that the training for pharmacists was extensive, covering topics such as general consultation skills, the legal framework for prescribing combination and progesterone only contraception, as well as information around sexually transmitted infections and other areas that may come up during consultations.
Priya’s pharmacy branch is on a high street near to a university campus, meaning she sees both students and young families.
“Some of our clients may find it difficult to get an appointment with their GP”, she said, “so we wanted to make contraceptive pill services more accessible. It was also an interesting pilot for our teams to join, to expand their skills and knowledge.”
Consultations in minutes
Ben Morris, a pharmacist in Stoke-on-Trent, took part in a pilot of the scheme in October 2021, which gave local people the option to access their ongoing supply of oral contraception directly from their community pharmacist.
After undergoing the necessary clinical training, Ben began consultations in January 2022.
He says that when they first started, each would take around 10-15 minutes, but now they are comfortable with the system and what it involves, they are able to deliver the consultations in five or six minutes.
“Even with the combined pill, where we need to take blood pressure, height and weight, it’s quick, including when people first register,” he said. “When it’s progesterone only, where we don’t have to do the tests like with the combined pill, it’s even quicker.
“It’s basically a case of now we’re used to it, we can deliver it more quickly. Where the patient consents, we also complete an anonymised returning patient message to the GP which adds about another five minutes”.
Easier access to contraception
Ben says anecdotal feedback was “overwhelmingly positive”.
“The ease of access and our service delivery is also giving people more general confidence in us to use the other services we offer,” he said.
“Rather than having these patients arrange a GP appointment, surgeries are now simply passing queries directly to us.
“We’re pleased that by working together, we have cemented their trust in us to deliver the confidential consultations in our private rooms and that we have the clinical expertise necessary to provide a repeat prescription.”