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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Scarleteen: UK Hurdles to Emergency Contraception

"Perhaps we'd be better off if emergency contraception could be seen for what it is, a medical and societal necessity instrumental to equality and female empowerment" Scarleteen

Following our popular blogpost My Emergency Contraception Service Experience, our friends at Scarleteen produced some useful information on what kind of service one should expect to receive from a pharmacy when in need of emergency contraception in the UK. Here are some main points.

  • The age you can legally consent to medical treatment and to sex are the same; 16 in the whole of the UK.
  • Many pharmacies won't serve under-16s without a prescription, but they are allowed to.
  • The policies on that are often standardised across a local area. That given, if you're under 16 and having sex it's worth finding out whether, in your local area, you'll need to get a prescription by going to your GP or an NHS Walk in centre, etc, or if you can just buy it over the counter. Being a young person can also mean you might be able to get it for free, but this varies around the country.
  • Basically, however: you can't be told you're too young if you're over 16. If you're under 16, being served is at the discretion of the pharmacy but it is not illegal. It often costs roughly £25 if you're over 25, and is often free if you're under 16, 16-25 it can vary.

Buying for someone else:

In the UK, pharmacies explain to you what the medication does and how to take it and they get you to sign something saying you understand. Unfortunately, that means it doesn't allow for a friend or partner to go get it for you.

Refusal on Religious Grounds:

In the UK, the General Pharmaceutical Council outline that on Religious Grounds you may be refused emergency contraception, however the pharmacist must inform you that this is why they are refusing you (they can't tell you some other false reason) and they then must direct you to an alternative venue for buying it so long as it will be realistically accessible to you in the time frame, otherwise they're guided to serve you.

This is all in the guidance and standards aimed at pharmacists and published by the GPhC. 
You [ie the pharmacist] must:  
2.2  Make sure that your professional judgement is not affected by personal or organisational interests, incentives, targets or similar measures
2.4  Be prepared to challenge the judgement of your colleagues and other  professionals if you have reason to believe that their decisions could affect the safety or care of others
2.5  In an emergency, consider all available options and do your best to provide care and reduce risks to patients and the public. 
3.4  Make sure that if your religious or moral beliefs prevent you from providing a service, you tell the relevant people or authorities and refer patients and the public to other providers
The above experts are from the GPhC's Standards of conduct. ethics and performance.
• If you do not supply Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC), (either over the counter or against a prescription) women should be referred to an alternative appropriate source of supply available within the time limits for EHC to be effective.
• If you do not supply Routine Hormonal Contraception, women should be referred to an alternative appropriate source of supply available within the time periodwhich will not compromise the woman’s contraceptive cover.
• If you refer a patient to a doctor’s surgery or hospital you should think about whether  the patient will be seen by a doctor or other appropriate practitioner within the time frame required for treatment to be effective (i.e. consider factors such as the practice’s opening hours and whether the patient will be able to get there). 
• If you refer a patient to another pharmacy, check that there will be a pharmacist available there who can provide the service and that they have the relevant stock.
2.7 Patients should not be discouraged from seeking further information or advice. 
For the full report please see the original post by Scarleteen. You can also use to find a local clinic that will give you emergency contraception for free.

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