Morning after pill to be sold over the counter

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The morning-after pill is likely to be made available over the counter in chemists' shops to anyone over 16. In some circumstances pharmacists will be allowed to prescribe emergency contraception to girls under 16 - a move that will be furiously opposed by the Tories.

The morning-after pill is likely to be made available over the counter in chemists' shops to anyone over 16. In some circumstances pharmacists will be allowed to prescribe emergency contraception to girls under 16 - a move that will be furiously opposed by the Tories.

The decision to make the morning-after pill much more easily available is part of a wider sexual health strategy being drawn up by health ministers. They believe that the last vestiges of "Victorian values" are partly responsible for Britain's high level of unwanted teenage pregnancies.

More than 90,000 teenagers in England become pregnant each year, 8,000 of them under 16 - the worst rate in Europe.

Families are to be urged to be more open about sexual issues, and new sexual health centres are to be established to bring family planning and treatment for venereal diseases and Aids under one roof for the first time in towns and cities. Last year Britain suffered a 30 per cent increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

"In Europe, there is much more open discussion about sex, but in this country we are still reluctant to discuss it openly. Teenage pregnancies have been going down in Europe but not in Britain," a ministerial source said.

"The thing people say about sex education in this country is that it is all about biology and not about relationships.

"It will be much broader than teenage pregnancies. The sexual health strategy will look at the kind of services we are giving. It includes older people and family planning clinics so there is one place for contraception and sexually transmitted diseases."

Parents are to be targeted in a new advertising campaign to persuade them to discuss more openly with their children the issues of sex, contraception and parenting.

And there will be a renewed attempt to make young boys and girls think twice before having unprotected sex.

Ministers are convinced the key is self-esteem - teenage girls with low self-esteem are at much greater risk of becoming pregnant.

The strategy for sexual health is certain to provoke an outcry from the "moral majority" in Britain and some of the vociferous campaigners opposed to contraception advice for those under the legal age of consent.

The morning-after pill is likely to be made available over the counter to those over 16 in chemists' shops. Guidelines are also being drawn up by the Royal Society of Pharmacists, following a series of pilot schemes, to allow pharmacists to prescribe emergency contraception to patients without the need to see a GP.

It will include girls under 16, providing they meet legal requirements following the so-called Gillick judgement allowing doctors to prescribe the Pill without the parents knowing.

Experts from the Government's Committee on Safety of Medicines have declared the drug levenorgestrel safe enough to be handed out without consulting a doctor.

The Medicines Control Agency is coming to the end of a six-week consultation period on the recommendation and health ministers will receive a report in July.

Liam Fox, the Tory spokesman on health, told the Independent on Sunday he opposed the sale of the morning-after pill over the counter as part of the Tories' campaign to support the family.

*The Government will be attacked this week by the cross-party Commons Health Select Committee for failing to do more to combat smoking.

The committee has also clashed with the tobacco companies over the disclosure of secret reports allegedly giving advance warning of links with cancer.

In a challenge to the powers of Parliament, the tobacco companies threatened judicial review if it tried to obtain papers that were commercially sensitive, although similar papers have been disclosed in the United States.

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