I am pleased to announce that officials in the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have granted two marketing authorisations to allow the supply through pharmacies of the progestogen-only oral contraceptive—desogestrel—as an over-the-counter medicine. This follows a rigorous review of the safety of this medicine by the Commission on Human Medicines and a public consultation. The response to the public consultation which was carried out as part of the regulatory assessment is also being made publicly available today. The MHRA has a long-established process for reclassifying medicines from prescription-only status to being made available for purchase over the counter when it is safe to do so.
This landmark reclassification, which was widely supported by women and healthcare professionals in the recent consultation, will enable women to purchase a progestogen-only contraceptive from a pharmacy following a detailed consultation with the pharmacist. 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. Pharmacists already provide a range of services in the area of sexual and reproductive health and are trained practitioners who are experienced in checking eligibility for all the products they supply.
The reclassification of desogestrel to a pharmacy medicine supports the Government’s wider commitments to improve women’s health and to ensure the public receive the best possible sexual health and contraception services. A new sexual and reproductive health strategy and a new women’s health strategy in England are in development, to be published later this year. The women’s health strategy will have an overarching aim of improving the health and wellbeing of women and the sexual and reproductive health strategy will set out ambitions to reduce inequalities in sexual and reproductive health outcomes, and will include a focus on improving reproductive health and access to contraception.
This reclassification is therefore an important step towards meeting our ambitions to improve women’s health by widening access and providing women with more choice in the provision of safe and effective contraception. Progestogen-only contraception will continue to be available free from prescription charge from GPs and sexual and reproductive health services as is the case for all prescribed contraception.