Morning-after pill 'should be offered in advance'

Young women should be given access to the morning-after pill to keep at home in case they need it, a watchdog said today.

Pharmacies in particular are being targeted as places where the under-25s can get emergency contraception in advance, according to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which published the guidelines.

It is the first time Nice has called for such a move as part of a bid to improve access to all types of contraception.

It said young men and women should also be able to access contraception, including condoms "in a range of types and sizes", at convenient locations, such as schools and youth clubs.

The draft guidance comes just hours after the UK's first TV commercial for abortion services was screened.

The ad for unplanned pregnancy and abortion advice at Marie Stopes clinics has sparked controversy, including opposition from the charity Life, which has written to Ofcom about the issue.

Today's Nice guidance said doctors, nurses and pharmacies should "ensure all young women are able to obtain free emergency hormonal contraception, including advance provision".

But staff are also told to encourage young women to discuss their contraceptive needs, and offer them a range of choices, including long-acting contraceptives such as jabs.

Young women should be "advised that emergency contraception is more effective the sooner it is used" while an intrauterine device is more effective in an emergency but can also be used long-term, Nice said.

Young women should also be "given information about the limitations of emergency hormonal contraception as a primary method".

The guidance says all sexual health bodies which provide contraception should endeavour to offer young people a full range, at convenient opening times.

On condoms, it said health workers should "encourage all young people to use condoms and lubricant in every sexual encounter, irrespective of their other contraceptive choices, because condoms help to prevent the transmission of sexually-transmitted infections".

It added: "Condoms should be provided alongside other methods of contraception."

Research has shown that while most young women use at least one method of contraception, abortion rates have increased since 1999.

Just under half of all pregnancies among 15 to 18-year-olds lead to an abortion.

The guidance focuses on socially disadvantaged young people, including teenage parents, those living in areas with high levels of deprivation, some minority ethnic groups and young offenders.

Dr Gillian Leng, Nice deputy chief executive, said: "Although this guidance focuses on socially disadvantaged young people, key recommendations are also relevant to all young people, regardless of their background.

"This draft guidance responds to a real need to improve existing contraceptive services, making it easier for young people, especially the most disadvantaged, to get the right information, advice and treatment at the right time."

The guidance said contraception and sexual health services should be established at "convenient, accessible locations such as city centres, colleges and schools so that no young person is denied services because of where they live".

Penny Barber, chief executive of the Brook advisory centre in Birmingham, helped draft the guidance, which is open to consultation.

She said: "We know emergency contraception is more effective the sooner you use it after sex so it's crucial young women have it on hand in case they need it.

"Evidence demonstrates that making emergency contraception available in advance does not change the amount of sex young people have."

According to Nice, it is not currently common practice for the morning-after pill to be given out in advance for young women to store at home.