Pharmacists call for Better Access to Contraception
- Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) calls for women to be allowed access contraception directly from their community pharmacist, without prescription and without charge
- Recent World Health Organisation Guidelines say “oral contraceptive pills should be made available without a prescription”
08 August 2019: In response to the recent public consultation on increasing access to contraception, the IPU has proposed a scheme by which women could access contraception directly from their community pharmacist without prescription and without charge. Access to free contraception was a recommendation made by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.
Irish pharmacists have been safely and appropriately providing emergency contraception without prescription since 2011, a service which has been funded for medical card holders since 2017. By improving access to regular birth control, more women will use it, which should result in reduced rates of unintended pregnancy.
Community pharmacist and IPU Executive Committee member Caitriona O’Riordan said: “We know from HSE research that almost half of women would prefer to access contraception through their pharmacy. The oral contraceptive pill is one of the safest and well-studied medicines available. Pharmacists would undergo appropriate training on the selection and supply of the most appropriate contraception and therefore there is simply no clinical cause for concern.”
There is no clinical reason why oral contraceptives should still require a prescription. Both the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists support access to contraception without prescription, which is becoming increasingly available from community pharmacists across the USA and Canada and has been shown to improve access and reduce unintended pregnancies.
Ms. O’Riordan continued: “Providing convenient and affordable access to birth control should be a public health priority. Even the World Health Organisation in its recent guidelines said that oral contraceptive pills should be made available without a prescription. Providing women with this choice will make it easier and more convenient to get contraception safely, meaning more women will use it, which should result in reduced rates of unintended pregnancy.”
For further information:
Siobhán Kane, Press and Communications Manager IPU, 087 7751510
See Editor’s note with additional information on next page
In April 2019, Minister for Health Simon Harris TD convened a Working Group on Access to Contraception. The Working Group launched a public consultation in July 2019, which closed on 05 August.
Working Group on Access to Contraception – Terms of Reference:
- To conduct a rapid review of national and international literature on contraception and associated issues;
- To specifically examine the extent to which cost is a barrier to accessing reliable methods of contraception in Ireland and to consider whether there are other factors influencing access to contraception that could be addressed;
- To examine mechanisms to address any access issues identified, including financial, legislative, regulatory and contractual issues, as well as any other relevant matters;
- To consult with relevant stakeholders; and
- To make recommendations to the Minister on the optimal policy options and next steps.
Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution
In December 2017, the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution issued its report which, in addition to recommending a referendum to repeal the constitutional prohibition on abortion, also recommended the introduction of “a scheme for the provision of the most effective method of contraception, free of charge and having regard to personal circumstances, to all people who wish to avail of them within the State”.
On foot of the above recommendation, the IPU proposed a scheme to the Minister for Health by which women could access contraception directly from their community pharmacist without prescription and, subject to Government policy, without charge. Irish pharmacists have been safely and appropriately providing emergency contraception without prescription since 2011, a service which has been funded for medical card holders since 2017. By improving access to regular birth control, more women will use it, which should result in reduced rates of unintended pregnancy and also abortion.
In the year since the IPU first made our proposal, progress has been made in other countries, such as USA, Canada and New Zealand, where pharmacists now routinely provide contraception directly to women without the need for a doctor’s prescription.
World Health Organisation Recommendation
In June 2019, the World Health Organisation launched its first Guideline on Self-care Interventions for Health, with a focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights. That Guideline contains a recommendation that “oral contraceptive pills should be made available without a prescription” (recommendation 11).