Mini-Pill Now Available Without Prescription in the UK
The progesterone-only pill (also called the ‘mini-pill’) can be purchased over-the-counter in pharmacies in the UK. This follows a landmark decision from regulators in early July 2021. Numerous organisations representing women, sexual health services, and health professionals lauded these long-awaited changes making contraception more accessible.
What is the mini-pill, and how effective is it?
The mini-pill is a commonly-used form of contraception containing progesterone, as opposed to both progesterone and oestrogen. This type of progesterone is called desogestrel and is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if taken correctly. It is safer than the combined pill (which also contains oestrogen) for women aged over 35 and smokers.
How did the change come about?
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is responsible for regulating and ensuring the safety of medicines in the UK. They carried out both a safety review and consultation on this decision which was widely supported. Members of the public, representatives of health professionals, and sexual health services agreed with the changes. Lovima 75 microgram tablets and Hana 75 microgram tablets are the specific drugs affected by the changes.
How can I get the mini-pill?
Following these changes, the mini-pill is now available to women over-the-counter following a discussion with a pharmacist. Local pharmacists can discuss suitability for the mini-pill and assist women with making an informed choice. Desogestrel can then be purchased for as little as £9.95 per month. The mini-pill will still remain available for free via prescription and from sexual health services. This means that as a prescription is no longer necessary, it is easier for women to get contraception.
This is especially important considering the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased the barriers faced by women accessing contraception. The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare reported that contraception-related contacts with sexual health services fell 37%. Additionally, uptake of long-acting contraception fell to 43%.
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, supports this change giving women more autonomy to avoid becoming pregnant if they do not wish to:
“Even before the pandemic, too many women and girls were struggling to access basic women’s health services. The consequences of this include an increase in the number of unplanned pregnancies, which can result in poorer outcomes for women and their babies. Enabling women and girls to access POP more easily and conveniently will give them more control over their reproductive health, which can only be a good thing.”
Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare highlights the potential positive impact on healthcare services in the UK:
“Successive cuts to public health budgets have made it harder for women to get the contraception they need. Reclassification may also reduce unnecessary pressures on GPs, who will not need to see patients for repeat prescriptions”
Dr Kasliwal advocates for further progress on improving access to contraception: “We are calling for these pills to be available to everyone for free in community pharmacies, as well as the reclassification of other contraceptives.” This would allow people from disadvantaged groups and those on other types of contraception to more easily obtain the reproductive care they require.