I’m several weeks behind on this, but I still think the idea is really interesting and worth our attention. England is launching two pilot programs that allow women to obtain access to birth control pills without a prescription from a doctor:
England plans to launch two pilot programs in the London area that will provide women with nonprescription access to birth control pills, the PA/Google.com reports. The pilot programs will begin next year in the Lambeth and Southwark primary care regions of England’s National Health Service, and the results will be used to determine whether the program should be expanded across England. Under the program, women seeking nonprescription oral contraception will undergo an interview with a qualified pharmacist. Strategic health authorities — which manage local health services under NHS — will be required to provide pharmacists with sets of instructions known as patient group directions, including special directions for girls younger than age 16, the PA/Google.com reports. According to the PA/Google.com, patient group directions are required by law to dispense medications without a doctor’s prescription and currently are used for administration of emergency contraception. The directions for dispensing EC to girls younger than 16 include a mental health assessment.
I am, of course, absolutely in favor of making contraception more accessible to all women. But like others, my immediate reaction was also to worry about some of the potential health consequences of women with risk factors having access to medication that puts them in danger. I additionally worried that women using the pill for the first time might miss out on some of that vital counseling on how to take it and otherwise practice safer sex.
I’ve concluded that a lot of this is a fairly Americanized concern. First of all, this kind of pharmacy system is not unusual for other types of medication in England and other countries like Australia (where I lived for a few years and have experienced the system to a small extent myself, while obtaining treatment for a yeast infection). Further, while birth control pills certainly can cause serious complications, the risks are not particularly high when compared to other medication. And lastly and perhaps most importantly, the women will not just be picking up a packet off the shelf at their leisure — they will still be getting consultations with medical professionals:
A Department of Health spokesperson said that the department wants “to improve women’s access to contraception and help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies without undermining patient safety” and that the pilot programs will “help to show whether supplying contraception through pharmacies is effective in reducing unintended pregnancies.” The spokesperson added, “We will be receiving quarterly updates from [strategic health authorities] on improving access to contraceptive services and will be working with them to assess the success of the schemes in their areas.” She said that women who receive contraception from a pharmacy without a prescription “can still expect a full consultation with a health professional such as a pharmacist or a nurse.”
I think a lot of it comes down to trusting women to look out for their own health (and after all, it’s just as easy to lie to a doctor as it is to lie to a nurse), and to trusting pharmacists and nurses to do their jobs. And I think an overwhelming majority certainly can be trusted.
I’m interested to see how the pilot goes, and if all turns out well, I’d be really interested in seeing a similar program instated in the U.S. American women could benefit from easier access to contraception even more, what with the huge additional complication of our current “you’re all on your own” health care system — where seeing a doctor isn’t just a hurdle in terms of scheduling and finding time to take off work, but also a potentially insurmountable cost. Unfortunately, our obsession with the idea that only doctors can get any medical task done coupled with inaccessibility to them for most uninsured people is also precisely why it seems less likely to happen.
- “Balka: Women, HIV, and Drug Use in Ukraine” short harm reduction documentary by Clarisse Thorn October 20, 2011
- More child rape victims for anti-choicers to torment by Jill June 24, 2008
- A Modest [Feminist?] Proposal by Jill February 19, 2008
- Shocker: Women in a “Pro-Life” Nation Want Birth Control by Jill February 12, 2008
- Pro-Life “Ethics” by Jill June 20, 2008