16 November 2023

Millions of women to be offered free contraceptive pills in pharmacies

16 November 2023

Millions of women will be able to get free contraceptive pills on the high street without having to see a GP under new NHS plans.

Starting next month, women in England can obtain a first prescription of the pill by visiting their local pharmacy.

The move will give women greater choice over where to get the pill and will free up appointments in GP surgeries.

If women opt for the combined oestrogen and progestogen pill, they will have a check-up with a pharmacist to record their blood pressure and weight.

No checks are needed for the mini-pill (progestogen-only), which is also the case in other settings, NHS England said.

Pharmacies need to sign up for the new service, meaning it will not be available immediately everywhere in England.

As more pharmacies join the scheme, the nhs.uk web page will be updated so women can check which locations offer the service.

Women who are too overweight or whose blood pressure is high – putting them at higher risk of blood clots on the combined pill – may be referred to their GP for further checks.

Funding has also been put in place so more pharmacies can offer repeat prescriptions of all types of pill.

The ongoing checks on blood pressure and weight that women need when they are on the pill will also be available in pharmacies.

NHS England said it expects almost half a million women to be able to access the pill next year without needing to contact their GP first, with the figure rising after that.

Prescription figures for 2022/23 suggest there were almost 3 million prescriptions for the combined pill and more than 4 million for the mini pill.

NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “This is really good news for women – we all lead increasingly busy lives, and thanks to this action, rather than making a GP appointment, they can simply pop into their local pharmacy when they need or want to access contraception.

“We will also be expanding services so that more health checks are available for patients on the high street, which is not only better and easier for patients but also frees up NHS time for more GP appointments for those who need them most.”

Under wider plans, pharmacists will be offering more blood pressure checks to at-risk patients, with a commitment to deliver 2.5 million a year by spring 2025.

NHS England estimates this could prevent more than 1,350 heart attacks and strokes in the first year.

If this initiative is effectively communicated and delivered, it will make a real difference to patients and relieve the pressure on hard-pressed services

Victoria Atkins, health and social care secretary, said: “It is a pleasure to start my time as Secretary of State with such a positive example of the Government, NHS and pharmacy sector working together to reach an agreement to improve services and save lives.

“For the public, these changes will mean more options for women when making a choice about their preferred contraception, reduce the risks of people suffering heart attacks and strokes and make it easier to access medicines for common conditions.

“And for healthcare professionals, this will free up GP appointments and make better use of the skills and expertise within community pharmacies.”

Janet Morrison, chief executive at Community Pharmacy England, said: “It makes perfect sense to use community pharmacies as a first port of call for healthcare advice, access to contraception and health checks such as blood pressure tests.

“Local pharmacies are staffed by highly qualified healthcare professionals and empowering them to do more is a logical next step for primary care.

“These new services will help patients and the public, as well as reducing pressure on GPs and the wider NHS.”

William Pett, head of policy, public affairs and research at Healthwatch England, said: “Women across England will welcome the convenience of getting the contraceptive pill at a local pharmacy.

If this initiative is effectively communicated and delivered, it will make a real difference to patients and relieve the pressure on hard-pressed services

“Being able to see your GP in a timely manner remains the public’s top concern.

“If this initiative is effectively communicated and delivered, it will make a real difference to patients and relieve the pressure on hard-pressed services.

“There could be potential problems, such as pharmacists not being able to see enough of people’s GP records or the ability of different communities and areas to access the new service.

“However, if evaluated well, the NHS will be able to ensure that this promising new service really works for patients.”

Boots said it will launch the NHS Pharmacy First service in England early next year.

“We welcome the Government’s announcement of plans to launch new contraception and minor ailments services in England, which will make life easier for patients to access the care and medicines they need quickly and help reduce GP wait lists,” said Seb James, the company’s managing director for the UK and Ireland.

“We have been working with our pharmacy teams in stores to roll out these new services to patients in England.

“We are already commissioned to deliver similar services for the NHS in Scotland and Wales and these are very popular with our patients and pharmacy team members.”

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