10% fall off in prescriptions for ‘the pill’ during COVID-19 crisis

8 May 2020: There has been a significant drop in the number of prescriptions being dispensed for oral contraception (the pill) since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Information revealed today by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) shows that there has been a 10% decrease in prescriptions for the pill dispensed compared to the same period last year.

HMR Ireland worked with 73% of Irish pharmacies in collecting this information, which showed a significant drop off in both the oral contraception that is taken by women on an ongoing basis (the pill), and the Emergency Hormonal Contraception, also known as the ‘morning after pill’.

Community pharmacist and IPU Executive Committee member Caitriona O’Riordan said there are two important messages for Irish women:

  • Under new regulations brought in because of the ongoing health crisis, pharmacists can now increase the maximum period of validity of a prescription from 6 months to 9 months, so you don’t have to get a new prescription for your oral contraception; and
  • You can get your Emergency Hormonal Contraception from the pharmacy without a prescription. We encourage women to phone the pharmacy first so the EHC consultation can be carried out over the phone in advance of coming to the pharmacy to collect the medicine.

Ms O’Riordan said, “There could be a number of reasons why fewer women are currently accessing the pill. Some may be wary of moving around and visiting a pharmacy, while others may have already finished their six-month prescription and don’t realise that pharmacists can currently extend this. We want to reassure everyone that pharmacies are open and operating as normal; they have also put in place stringent physical distancing measures to ensure there is no risk to patients.”

Maeve O’Brien, Interim Programme Lead of the HSE’s Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme said, “We would encourage women who have a prescription for the contraceptive pill and who are sexually active to contact their pharmacist. If you need to renew your prescription, your pharmacist may be able to provide you with additional supplies of your contraception, if it is safe and appropriate to do so. Lower numbers of women accessing their usual contraception methods may increase the risk of unplanned pregnancies occurring. We would also advise women who have been sexually active without using contraception, and not planning a pregnancy, to contact their pharmacist to arrange an emergency hormonal contraception consultation. Information on contraception is available on www.sexualwellbeing.ie.

Ms O’Riordan concluded, “Pharmacists have previously called for the pill to be made available in pharmacies without prescription. The drop in use that we are seeing at the moment further emphasises the importance of improving access to contraception. This is about giving choice to women, and pharmacists are happy to offer that choice currently; we hope it can be enhanced in future.”