It’s important to understand the distinction between pharmacy-only medicines (P) and over the counter, or general sales list (GSL) medicines.
Even though you can access P-line medication at a counter, a pharmacist still has to ask some questions about your health to make sure what they issue is suitable. When it comes to GSL medication (OTC medication), these rules don’t apply. You can buy them “no questions asked”.
Until recently, all oral contraceptives were prescription only medications (POM) in the UK.
However, in 2021 it was announced that certain mini pills (progesterone-only pills) would be available to purchase from pharmacies as P-line medications.
“The MHRA said it had consulted patients, pharmacists, prescribers and a wide range of stakeholders including the Royal College of Gynaecologists, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and British Pregnancy Advisory Service, as part of the decision-making process”.
What contraceptive pills don’t need a prescription?
At the time of writing, two mini pills are currently approved as P-line medications which are Lovima and Hana. You can’t buy contraception like Cerazette, for example, over-the-counter in the UK.
Being P-line medications, you don’t need a prescription to buy either Lovima or Hana. But a pharmacist will still need to perform a quick consultation to ensure they’re safe and suitable for you.
What birth control do I need a prescription for?
All hormonal contraception, excluding the mini pills Lovima and Hana, are prescription-only medications. This means all combined pills, the patch, the contraceptive ring and the majority of mini pills will require a prescription.
You can buy non-hormonal methods of contraception over the counter in UK pharmacies, such as condoms.
Can you buy the contraceptive patch or the ring over the counter?
Both the contraceptive patch and ring require a prescription. They contain two synthetic female hormones to help prevent pregnancy. Because of this, and because of the potential for side effects, you’ll need to have a consultation with a doctor or prescriber before they can issue a prescription.
Nuvaring is the main contraceptive ring used in the UK. It’s a prescription only medication (POM), so you’ll need a consultation with a doctor in order to take it. The most commonly used birth control patch is the Evra patch, which is also a POM.
A doctor or prescriber will need to demonstrate how to use the contraceptive ring the first time you use it. After this, it can be self applied.
Can pharmacists prescribe birth control?
Since 2006, certain medical professionals who are not doctors have been allowed to prescribe medication in the UK. Nurses, pharmacists, dentists and certain other medical professionals can now train and register as independent prescribers.
So, yes, pharmacists can prescribe birth control and you can get the pill at the pharmacy – providing a healthcare professional who works there who is qualified to write prescriptions.