Friday 20 October 2017

Making morning-after pill widely available vital for women

Doctors' reservations about emergency contraception at Boots are unjustified, writes Ciara Kelly

Emergency contraception 'the morning-after pill' was sold over the counter -- in Boots pharmacies -- for the first time here last week. Previously it's been available only on prescription -- unlike in the UK (and many other countries) where it's been over the counter for years.

Boots can legally do this because of an amendment to legislation in 2005, which allows healthcare professionals -- such as pharmacists -- to dispense emergency contraception to patients, without prescription, provided they do so in accordance with protocols drawn up by a doctor. To be clear, this isn't a loophole, this was the intention of the amendment, and emergency contraception is not an abortifacient. It's given to unpregnant women to prevent pregnancy. It is not effective in terminating an existing pregnancy.

The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) has expressed major concerns about the quality and continuity of care given to patients that might result from this. Dr Mel Bates, chair of the ICGP, has said that in a doctor setting, "women could be offered advice about contraception and sexually transmitted infections not just given the pill". And that's true. Despite the fact that pharmacists are required to offer private consultations to patients before dispensing emergency contraception, it's unlikely that this will cover the breadth of sexual health and ongoing contraceptive needs that a GP visit might.

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