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The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved over-the-counter sales of two brands of contraceptive pills through pharmacies on Thursday (July 08).

For the first time ever, women in the UK will be able to buy contraceptive pills ‘Hana’ and ‘Lovima’ without a prescription, under the supervision of a qualified pharmacist.

The reclassification of progestogen-only oral contraceptive desogestrel came after a rigorous review of safety of this medicine by the Commission on Human Medicines and a public consultation.

“This will provide an additional route to access for those seeking contraceptive services and will help to reduce the pressure on GP surgeries and sexual health clinics with the potential to reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancies and abortions,” pharmacy minister Jo Churchill said.

Training for pharmacies

Following the announcement, Cheshire-based medicine manufacturer Maxwellia has said that it has developed a suite of comprehensive pharmacy training and support materials to support the launch of Lovima.

“The product will be available to access through a dedicated HCP portal at this website,” the company said.

Additionally, a consumer facing website providing important information on choosing the right form of contraception and seeking advice from a healthcare professional is also being made available, along with a checklist online for women to complete in advance of their visit to the pharmacy to help the consultation with the pharmacist.

The company, led by founder and CEO Anna Maxwell, who has spent more than 30 years working as a registered pharmacist and in the pharmaceutical industry, is “dedicated to helping break down contraception access barriers faced by women by launching Lovima into pharmacies and supporting greater sexual health education and awareness.”

It says “the game-changing decision” will benefit thousands of women who can now choose to buy the product from their local pharmacy without a prescription following a consultation with their pharmacist.

“It is the first, but momentous, step on our journey in enabling pharmacists to broaden their front-line role. As a registered pharmacist I know that pharmacists can play an even greater role in helping people take more control of their own health, which is why we are 100 per cent focused on our switch strategy. We are developing a portfolio of medicines that we know pharmacists are suited to advise on and sell.”

Similarly, HRA Pharma intends to launch its desogestrel contraceptive pill ‘Hana’ in pharmacies across the UK following the switch.

It will also provide pharmacies a comprehensive training ahead of the launch. The three-module training programme will comprise information and guidance in assessing risk and identifying patient suitability to enable pharmacists to confidently provide consultations.

Frédérique Welgryn, chief strategic operations & innovation officer at HRA Pharma, said: “We firmly believe that regular contraception should be widely and easily accessible to women, allowing them to make contraceptive decisions on their own terms.

“We are delighted to be leading the way, leveraging our expertise in women’s health and contraception, to help make this a reality for thousands of women following the efforts to achieve the reclassification of desogestrel.”

Deborah Evans, managing director and founder of Pharmacy Complete, commented: “The reclassification of the progestogen-only pill from POM to P, is an exciting opportunity for pharmacists working in the community to further demonstrate their clinical capability and support women to obtain contraception when it is convenient for them.

“Whether initiating or continuing supply, pharmacists are well placed to empower women to make the choices that are important to them, increasing access at an important time.

“The future for pharmacy is in supporting the public’s health and providing more clinical services; the switch by HRA Pharma for the progestogen-only pill is significant for pharmacy and the women using our services.”

Historic milestone for women

In response to the decision by the MHRA to approve over-the-counter sales of two brands of contraceptive pill, Michelle Riddalls, CEO of PAGB, the consumer healthcare association, said, “We warmly welcome this decision by the MHRA.

“It is a historic milestone for women and women’s health.”

This is the first time that any form of daily contraceptive pill has been licensed for over-the-counter sale in the UK, 60 years after the pill was originally offered by the NHS – initially to married women only.

“Enabling women to buy the progestogen-only pill in pharmacies will be particularly beneficial at a time when accessing sexual health services has become more challenging in parts of the UK because of pressure on NHS resources and the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Riddalls.

“Both of the pill brands approved for over-the-counter use, Hana and Lovima, will be sold only under the supervision of qualified pharmacists who can offer expert advice on the products and their suitability for women seeking contraceptive options.

“They will be able to pinpoint any issues that might warrant further consultation with a GP or specialist.

“Increasing the number of medicines available over-the-counter offers people faster and easier access to effective products, encouraging self-care where appropriate and reducing pressure on GPs and the NHS generally.”

Meanwhile, hailing reclassification of the progestogen-only pill as “a landmark moment for women”, Boots UK announced that Hana and Lovima will be available over the counter in Boots pharmacies nationwide.

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. Boots has been supporting and empowering women for over 170 years, and this continues as we make these medicines available without a prescription in the coming weeks.”

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