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Service providing free EHC ahead of festive season buckles under demand

By News team

A service providing free emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) to women in advance of the festive period has been overwhelmed with demand, and can no longer guarantee supply of the drug before Christmas.

Under the scheme, which was run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, women could request levonorgestrel (Levonelle One Step) via a telephone consultation with a nurse. Those who were deemed eligible were then posted the drug free of charge.

A BPAS spokeswoman told PJ Online that response to the scheme was overwhelming, with over 1,000 requests for packs — which included EHC, condoms and support information — within the first 48 hours of the service’s launch this month (1 December 2011).

A notice on the BPAS website states that nurses remain available to speak to women about how to access EHC in advance. It adds: "Please leave your details [via the online form] and we’ll get in contact with you as soon as we can over the next few weeks."

The BPAS said it launched the service because the high costs associated with buying EHC from a pharmacist and the refusal of some healthcare professionals to provide the drug create a barrier to preventing unwanted pregnancies. "At Christmas, with many clinics and chemists closed, problems of access can be even greater [than normal]," the BPAS added.

A BPAS spokeswoman said: "From what women are saying, they have found it stressful or difficult obtaining the pill in the past . . . because women don’t always know how their request is going to be viewed by a doctor or a pharmacist, they appreciate talking to someone who they know does not think they are doing something wrong."

According to guidance issued by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare this summer (August 2011), there is no evidence to support the routine provision of EHC in advance. However, in a statement issued last week, the faculty said that advance supply over the festive period is in the best interests of many women because access to services may be particularly limited.

See also: Guidance on the supply of EHC as a pharmacy medicine produced by the Society

What do you think?

Three quarters (75%) of voters in the current PJ Online poll do not agree with encouraging women to "stock up" on emergency hormonal contraception ahead of the festive period.

Just over a fifth (22%) of voters think women should be encouraged to stock up on the drug, while 3% are not sure.

Go to the poll to let us know what you think.


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11091166

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