The contraceptive pill will be issued over the counter by community pharmacies without a prescription from a GP under a scheme announced by the Government.

Women, and girls under 16, would be able to obtain the oral contraceptive after a simple interview with qualified pharmacists instead of going to their GPs.

The pilot scheme could put the Pill on the same footing as the morning-after pill, which is already available over the counter without direct authorisation from a doctor.

The Health minister Lord Darzi insisted "robust" standards would be put in place to ensure that staff were up to the job.

"We recognise that pharmacies could play an increased role in the provision of contraception and other sexual health services because of their accessibility and convenient opening hours," he told the House of Lords.

According to the Department of Health, a senior clinician at a strategic health authority (SHA) would issue a set of instructions called patient group directions (PGD) to suitably trained people such as pharmacists.