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Contraceptive pill can be taken every day, NHS says in new guidance

‘How could it be that for 60 years we have been taking the pill in a sub-optimal way because of this desire to please the Pope?’

Adam Forrest
Sunday 20 January 2019 17:51 GMT
GP Dr Zoe Williams interrogates the contraceptive pill - exploring latest scientific research and investigating the future of birth control

The reproductive health body setting standards for the NHS has produced new guidance to assure women the contraceptive pill can be taken every day of the month.

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) said there is no health benefit to a seven-day break while taking the combined contraceptive pill – a practice first introduced in the hope the Catholic Church would “accept” some form of contraception.

Experts hope the updated advice can help prevent more unwanted pregnancies.

The new Nice-approved clinical guidelines confirm the direction already given by many doctors advising their patients against the seven-day break while on the pill.

Professor John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health, rejected the “sub-optimal” way the combined hormone contraceptive pill has traditionally been taken for 60 years.

“The gynaecologist John Rock devised [the break] because he hoped that the Pope would accept the pill and make it acceptable for Catholics to use,” Professor Guillebaud told The Telegraph.

“Rock thought if it did imitate the natural cycle then the Pope would accept it. When his campaign to get the pill accepted by the Pope failed, he just simply stopped being a Catholic, having been a committed one for his entire life.”

He added: “How could it be that for 60 years we have been taking the pill in a sub-optimal way because of this desire to please the Pope?”

Medical experts expect 365 day pill prescriptions – for a full year of combined hormonal contraception – to become widespread in the UK if the guidelines are followed. The combined pill is still commonly packaged in rows of 21, so there are not enough pills in a single pack for a full month.

The FSRH said fewer breaks and shorter breaks could reduce the risk of pregnancy.

“The guideline suggests that by taking fewer hormone-free intervals – or shortening them to four days – it is possible that women could reduce the risk of getting pregnant on combined hormonal contraception,” Dr Diana Mansour, vice president for clinical quality at FSRH.

The Family Planning Association has also produced a new leaflet explaining the effectiveness of combined hormonal contraception.

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