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Emergency contraception

Online pharmacy sells emergency contraception for £4.99

Chemist 4 U is selling Levonogestrel for under £5 and Pharmacy2U offers the same drug for £6.50, while the price is much higher at high-street retailers.

emergency contraceptive pills

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While Superdrug and Tesco have priced emergency contraception at around £13, some online pharmacies are now selling the drug for less than half that sum

Emergency contraception can now be bought online in the UK for as little as £4.99.

Superdrug and Tesco recently halved the cost of emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) to £13.49 and £13.50 respectively, and high street pharmacy Boots — following widespread anger at the major mupltiple’s initial refusal to lower the price — claims to be looking at sourcing less expensive EHC.

But Skelmersdale-based online pharmacy Chemist 4 U has been selling Levonogestrel for under £5 since February 2017, and Pharmacy2U offers the same drug for £6.50.

“We’ve been working with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) since February, when they first contacted us asking what the pill could, and should, be sold for — we then lowered our price to £4.99,” says Shamir Patel, managing director of Chemist 4 U.

Patel emphasises that, in accordance with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, Chemist 4 U sells emergency contraception for advance supply only.

”We would not supply it to someone who wanted it for immediate use — we would advise them to walk into a pharmacy,” he says. 

Patel draws a parallel in the price differential between advance supply and immediate supply of EHC, with a customer paying a convenience premium for a bottle of fizzy drink at a motorway service station compared with buying it at a supermarket.

Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at BPAS, says: “BPAS has always encouraged women to have the morning-after pill in their bathroom cabinet, so it’s great that Chemist 4 U are doing this.

“Realistically, though, many women don’t buy it in advance, as you never think you will need it. So it’s really important that the high street offers a good price too. We’ve seen a drop in price the last couple of weeks — major supermarkets are now selling it at around £13.50, which is still a bit steep but a major improvement. We agree with the YouGov poll conducted last year, which found people thought that a price of £8 would be about right — that’s doable, and a reasonable price.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203338

Readers' comments (3)

  • Michael Achiampong

    EHC has, and will always remain a highly emotive issue.

    However, I cannot help thinking of some kind of "hidden agenda" going on behind the scenes. The drug tariff price for levonorgestrel is approximately £5.20 [as of July 2017].

    So how can be it possible for the two online pharmacies mentioned to cheapen the provision of (albeit generic) levonorgestrel to less than a fiver?

    Quite apart from the risks of counterfeiting etc, I am very wary about the "Amazonisation" of GSL, pharmacy and prescription only medicines; and the commoditisation of EHC to particularly vulnerable customers. Isn't this really about the commercial prophet god/goddess disguised as "convenience"?

    In my view, the remote selling of EHC is detrimental compared to the time required to conduct an properly effective consultation with a pharmacist (face to face or skype); and the costs of manufacture, QA/QC and real world supply chain distribution/logistics costs.

    I suppose the cat's out of the bag when EHC is likened to buying a bottle of a fizzy drink! And honestly, who really trusts so-called pollsters like You Gov, nowadays?

    I have studied BPAS's website carefully, and it's struck me that they have a "link" to Chemist 2 U's website - without a disclaimer nor declaration regarding potential conflict of interest.

    Why are customers not given the "choice" of other online pharmacies,? Equally, BPAS does not make it crystal clear that levonorgestrel might not be suitable for every woman requesting EHC. Rather, their website reads as if one should be able to request EHC on demand in any pharmacy - without any questions being asked by a pharmacist, whatsoever.

    I have also noted the NICE "guidelines" regarding the advance supply of EHC. However, careful reading of the NHS Choices website and MHRA's drug safety update (issued in September 2016) clearly states that if provision of the IUD coil is impractical for EHC, then ulipristal acetate is recommended ahead of levonorgestrel primarily because of the former's five day time window and its greater efficacy.

    I accept that other readers might disagree with my views.
    EHC has and always will remain a highly sensitive, emotive issue.

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  • The system's not perfect, I believe the NHS should be funding the supply of the EHC in every pharmacy but, as of yet the free service is not available country wide.
    Pharmacies do have consultation rooms for privacy, and many have female Pharmacists to talk to too. The pill is a medicine, and if it is not taken correctly it can be harmful. There are also safeguarding issues to consider, a medical professional has to be in the loop to recognise and report suspected cases of abuse, otherwise, how would anyone know who they're for? And for what purpose they're being used?

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  • So how does an advance supply via a online pharmacy tackle safeguarding issues?
    At least with a face to face consultation with the patient a pharmacist has got a chance to pick up the signs and report it if necessary.

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