Women will be able to access some types of daily contraceptive pills in pharmacies without a prescription for the first time in the UK.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced on Thursday that it has reclassified Lovima and Hana, two 75 microgram progesterone-only contraceptives.
This means women will be able to access the pills over the counter after a consultation with a pharmacist, rather than via a GP appointment.
Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), described this as a “huge win for women and girls”.
He said: “We are delighted that all those who need the progestogen-only oral contraceptive pill (POP) can now go into their local pharmacy and access it without needing a prescription.
“This announcement is a huge win for women and girls who will no longer face unnecessary barriers when accessing this type of contraception.”
He added that even before the pandemic, many women were struggling to access basic feminine health services, resulting in an increased number of unplanned pregnancies.
Michelle Riddalls, chief executive of consumer healthcare association PAGB, described the decision as “an historic milestone for women”.
She said: “We warmly welcome this decision by the MHRA.
“Making these progestogen-only contraceptive pills available without prescription in the UK is an historic milestone for women and women’s health.
“This is the first time that any form of daily contraceptive pill has been licensed for over-the-counter sale in the UK, 60 years after the pill was originally offered by the NHS – initially to married women only.”
The progesterone-only pills contain desogestrel and can be taken safely by women who cannot use the standard contraceptive pill which contains oestrogen.
The reclassification means women will not need to make appointments with their GP to access the contraception, although they will still be available via this route and via sexual health clinics.
Many other types of daily contraceptive pills, including the combined progesterone-oestrogen tablets, will still require prescriptions.
Dr June Raine CBE, chief executive of the MHRA, said: “Pharmacists have the expertise to advise women on whether desogestrel is an appropriate and safe oral contraceptive pill for them to use and to give women the information they need, to make informed choices.
“We have consulted a wide range of people to enable us to reach the decision to make this contraceptive available for the first time in the UK without prescription.
“We received many responses to our consultation, the majority of which supported this approach.”
The MHRA’s decision to reclassify the products also follows a safety review by the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM).
Robbie Turner, Royal Pharmaceutical Society director of pharmacy, said the move was a “positive step” and that women would be able to access expert advice from pharmacies.