A cheaper generic emergency hormonal contraceptive (EHC) is now available at all UK branches of Boots — three months later than the company originally promised.
Boots attributed the delay to a “manufacturing issue” which created stock shortages preventing it from making the product available by the end of October 2017 at all its almost 2,500 UK stores as first pledged.
The cheaper generic version of levonorgestrel has a £15.99 price tag — less than the £26.75 Boots was charging for an alternative generic last year and also less than the £28.25 price of the branded Levonelle which was also being sold in its pharmacies.
In a statement issued on 29 January 2018, the company said: “It was always our intention to ensure that when we launched this service it was done well, and with sufficient, sustainable supply so that women would be able to access it both now and in the future.”
Boots said it was now keen to see a free pharmacy-delivered EHC service across England — mirroring those running in Wales and Scotland.
“We would like to continue to call on NHS England to review their plans in this regard,” a spokesperson for Boots said.
That call was welcomed by Labour shadow minister for public health, Sharon Hodgson, who said: “The next step is to ensure this important service is available to every woman at her local pharmacy free on the NHS by eradicating the postcode lottery that exists at present and look at ways to remove the cost barrier altogether.”
The decision by Boots to offer a cheaper EHC product was triggered by last year’s campaign by pregnancy charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) to persuade high street chains and supermarket pharmacies to lower their prices for the morning after pill.
Boots originally refused to follow the lead of its competitors and caused controversy when it said it did not want to “incentivise inappropriate use” of emergency contraception.
The company apologised for the remark and announced in August 2017 that it had begun selling a cheaper £15.99 EHC generic in 38 of its UK stores, promising the drug would be available in all its 2,500 stores from October 2017.
In a statement, BPAS said Boots’ decision to make its cheaper contraceptive available in all stores was “good news for women”.
But it said that despite recent price cuts EHC products were still significantly more expensive in the UK than in many European countries, and that the “mandatory consultation” women face before being sold the morning after pill — for which it claimed there was no “clinical justification” — remained a barrier to reducing the price further.