The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved two brands of progestogen-only contraceptive pills, containing desogestrel, to buy in community pharmacies without a prescription.
The approval follows a safety review by the Commission of Human Medicines and two separate public consultations on the reclassification of the progestogen-only contraceptive pills Lovima (75 microgram film-coated tablets) and Hana (75 microgram film-coated tablets) from prescription-only medicines (POMs) to pharmacy (P) medicines.
According to a statement from the MHRA issued on 8 July 2021, desogestrel is “safe for most women to take” and will be available following a consultation with a pharmacist.
“This is good news for women and families,” said June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA. “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.”
She added: “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.”
According to the MHRA, the two public consultations received 494 responses, with more than 80% being in favour of the reclassification.
In March 2021, The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed that the British Medical Association supported the proposal, although doctors raised concerns around safeguarding and any reduction in the use of long-acting reversible contraceptives.
The MHRA said that desogestrel will still be available free of charge from GP practices and sexual health clinics.
Robbie Turner, director of pharmacy and member experience at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, described the reclassification as a “positive step” for women that will increase access to the progestogen-only pill.
“This move will increase access to a safe and effective method of contraception and enable women to make an informed choice about their needs after discussion with a pharmacist.
“Whilst this reclassification is a positive move, there will be an affordability issue for some women. Ultimately we’d like to see contraception provided for free through NHS community pharmacy services across Great Britain, so that many more people can benefit from another point of access to contraception and advice,” Turner said.
Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said he was “delighted” that all those needing the progestogen-only contraceptive pill would be able to access it without 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.”
Boots Pharmacy said that it would be offering both brands of contraceptive “in the coming weeks”, with Hana priced at £9.95 for a one-month pack and £21.95 for a three-month pack, and Lovima priced at £14.99 for a one-month pack and £29.99 for a three-month pack.
Bernadette Lavery, pharmacy director at Boots UK, said: “The reclassification of the progestogen-only pill is a landmark moment in the history of women’s health in the UK, making contraception more accessible.”