High street chemist Boots has said it is “truly sorry” for the way it responded to a campaign calling for it to cut the price of emergency contraception and announced it is looking for cheaper alternatives.
The chain faced criticism after refusing to reduce the cost of the morning-after pill over fears it could incentivise its use.
Labour MPs attacked the company for taking an “unacceptable” moral position and health campaigners claimed women were being hit with a “sexist surcharge”.
A spokesman for Boots said: “Pharmacy and care for customers are at the heart of everything we do and as such we are truly sorry that our poor choice of words in describing our position on emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) has caused offence and misunderstanding, and we sincerely apologise.”
Boots charges £28.25 for Levonelle emergency contraceptive and £26.75 for its own version, while Tesco charges £13.50 for Levonelle and Superdrug £13.49 for a generic product.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which launched the campaign calling on Boots to reduce the price tag on the emergency contraceptive, found the progestogen-based pills can cost up to five times more in the UK than other parts of Europe.
Boots said its price tag was based on the cost of the medicine and the consultation the pharmacists carries out with women but it is “committed” to finding less expensive versions of the tablet.
It said: “We firmly believe in the right of all women to access the EHC service with ease and convenience, and have long been at the forefront of increasing accessibility of contraception for women.
“The provision of EHC requires a regulated mandatory consultation to protect women’s health and is a professional healthcare service provided by highly trained pharmacists. As a leading pharmacy, we will not compromise or undervalue this professional service.
“The consultation with the pharmacist is necessary to understand the patient’s individual circumstances and ensure we provide an appropriate, safe and effective medicine for her.
“The pricing of EHC is determined by the cost of the medicine and the cost of the pharmacy consultation. We are committed to looking at the sourcing of less expensive EHC medicines, for example generics, to enable us to continue to make a privately funded EHC service even more accessible in the future.
“In addition the NHS EHC service where it is locally commissioned, is provided for free in over 1,700 of our pharmacies, and we continue to urge the NHS to extend this free service more widely.”