United Kingdom

Emergency contraception (EC) is available in the United Kingdom: LNG EC, UPA EC, and the use of IUD for EC are included in national policies for sexual and reproductive health care. EC is distributed at numerous sites, including pharmacies, hospitals, and family planning clinics, and it is included in drug reimbursement policies. There are important differences in the EC delivery modalities of different parts of the country, and not all modalities have been captured in this profile.

Sexual & reproductive health background information

Female population aged 15-49 Mean age at first sexual intercourse Mean age at birth of first child Total fertility rate % use of modern contraceptive methods
Estimate 14,733,0001 16.62 27.83 1.984 84%5
Year 2010 2005 2010 2010 2008-09

Accessibility & prescription status

LNG (since 2001)8 and UPA (since 2015) EC pills are available without prescription. Both methods can be obtained free of charge if procured with a prescription from the National Health System (NHS). EC is available from general practitioners, some hospitals, emergency rooms, contraception and sexual health, and pharmacies. EC can also be bought from United Kingdom-based Internet sites. Women younger than 16 need a prescription to buy LNG EC.

LNG and UPA EC can be supplied by nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers on the authority of a prescriber following a Patient Group Direction (PGD). A PGD is a mechanism that enables non-prescribers to directly provide prescription-only medications through partnerships with prescribers.

Cost

Type of EC Approximate Cost When Procured without Prescription Brand(s) Available
LNG € 42 Levonelle, Levonelle One Step
UPA € 57 ellaOne

LNG EC is free from pharmacies within Scotland and Wales. LNG EC is also free from pharmacies in England for certain groups, such as young people, depending on the region.  Both LNG EC and UPA EC are available at no cost from family planning clinics throughout the United Kingdom.

Guidelines & common practices

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Clinical Guideline: Emergency Contraception, first published in March 2017 and updated in December 2020 by, is the United Kingdom’s guide exclusively devoted to EC. It includes recommendations on LNG and UPA EC pills as well as on the use of IUD for EC. The guidelines is updated as often as needed and can be dowloaded directly from the Faculty’s website. In line with the Faculty’s new recommendations, in 2017 the Royal Pharmaceutical Society also updated its own guidance on prescribing EC.9

General information about EC is often provided during regular consultations with specialists in sexual and reproductive health, but is more rarely provided during regular consultations with general practitioners and pharmacists. Specialists in sexual and reproductive health sometimes prescribe EC in advance of need for women who are using condoms or other barrier methods.

Health care providers do not require a pelvic exam before prescribing EC and only require a pregnancy test if they suspect there is a pre-existing pregnancy.

EC use

Ever use of EC EC use in the last 12 months % with no prescription Repeated use of EC in last 12 months
Estimate 61%6 7%7 33%7 1 – 2%7
Year 2010 2008-09 2002 2000-02

Sources

1 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. New York, 2011.

2 Durex Global Sex Survey Results 2005. Retrieved 20 June 2013, from http://www.durex.com/en-jp/sexualwellbeingsurvey/documents/gss2005result.pdf.

3 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Statistical Division Database. Mean Age of Women at Birth of First Child by Country and Year. Updated 23 November 2012. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://w3.unece.org/pxweb/dialog/varval.asp?ma=04_GEFHAge1stChild_r&path=../database/STAT/30-GE/02-Families_households/&lang=1&ti=Mean+age+of+women+at+birth+of+first+child.

4 Eurostat. Total fertility rate, 1960-2011 (live births per woman). Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php?title=File:Total_fertility_rate,_1960-2011_%28live_births_per_woman%29.png&filetimestamp=20130129121040.

5 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. World Contraceptive Use 2012. New York, 2012.

6 Cameron ST, Gordon R, Glasier A. The effect on use of making emergency contraception available free of charge. Contraception 28 March 2012.

7 London Department of Health, Office for National Statistics. Survey Report No. 41: Contraception and Sexual Health. 2008-2009.

Glasier A, Baraitser P, McDaid L, et al Emergency contraception from the pharmacy 20 years on: a mystery shopper study 

Corrinne Burns. (2017, March 12). RPS issues updated guidance on emergency contraception. The Pharmaceutical Journal. https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/news/rps-issues-updated-guidance-on-emergency-contraception.

Last update: June 2021