'Morning after' pill to go on open sale

Click to follow
WOMEN who need emergency contraception will soon be able to buy the 'morning after' pill without a prescription. The change is likely to be announced early next year after a government review of contraceptive methods, writes Liz Hunt, medical correspondent.

The review was announced last year as part of a drive to cut the pounds 3.2bn drugs bill of the National Health Service.

The 'morning after' pill - the woman takes two tablets within 72 hours of intercourse followed by two more 12 hours later - offers a 98 per cent chance of preventing pregnancy. Sold at pharmacies, it would cost about pounds 2.50 a pack; at present, the prescription is free.

Family planning organisations support sales. The need to visit a GP to get the pill is a deterrent to many women, they argue, but a ban on NHS prescriptions would be at odds with the Government's aim of reducing pregnancies. They also fear that removing the 'morning after' pill from NHS prescriptions is the prelude to winding down free contraception.

The government review concluded that deregulation of the 'morning after' pill while banning it from NHS prescription was the 'lesser of two evils', sources say. It has already been announced that some drugs will no longer be supplied by the NHS. Contraceptives, seen as the most politically sensitive category, have been left until last.

Schering Healthcare, which makes the 'morning after' pill, sells about half a million packs a year to the NHS at pounds 1.40 each. Scientists say it is a safe drug, but it can cause so women are likely to use it only when they have had unplanned intercourse or when a condom has burst.