UK: access to EC, coronavirus, and confidentiality

November 2020. In September 2020, BPAS undertook a mystery shopper survey to assess whether and how pharmacies in the United Kingdom deliver the mandatory consultation for emergency contraception (EC) during the COVID-19 pandemic; and to assess whether and how easily women can access EHC without compromising on social distancing practices.

In the UK EC can be purchased from most community pharmacies, however due to licensing restrictions all women purchasing EC need to undergo a mandatory consultation.

A third (32.5%) of pharmacies providing EC surveyed were unable to provide the mandatory consultation in a way that was both confidential and COVID-secure. Consequently, women seeking EHC in these areas may be forced to choose between risking catching or transmitting COVID-19 (by breaching social distancing rules), their privacy (by having a consultation on the shop floor), or an unwanted pregnancy.

BPAS report states: “The physical constraints pharmacists are operating under cannot be changed, but the current regulatory framework, which in the United Kingdom places pharmacists under an obligation to undertake a consultation with every woman requesting EHC could be amended by reclassifying emergency hormonal contraception as a general sales list (GSL) medication. This would enable women to purchase this safe and effective medication directly from the shelf, without placing their health or confidentiality at risk during the pandemic.”

Read the full report here.