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Where to get contraception from

Where to get contraception from

Over the years contraceptive availability has become more widespread. There are a number of ways to get hold of your chosen contraceptive ranging from the more traditional routes, such as through your GP, through to online pharmacies and even over-the-counter.

All women should feel that they are able to make use of contraception should they want to, and on this page we’ll discuss the various ways to access birth control. If you’ve ever wondered how to get the pill or what’s the most convenient place for you to go, we’ll let you know all your options.

Daniel Atkinson
Medically reviewed by
Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead
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Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical Lead
on August 02, 2022.
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Getting contraception in person

It’s possible to get hold of your contraception through various routes. Your options can depend on what type of contraception you prefer.

  • Over-the-counter general sales – condoms.
  • Pharmacy medicine (without a prescription) – mini pills Hana and Lovima.
  • Prescription medication (prescribed by a doctor or prescribing clinician and dispensed by a pharmacy) – combined pill, mini pill, patch or ring.
  • Long-acting reversible contraception – usually a small procedure carried out by a healthcare professional in a clinical environment. E.g. Intrauterine device (IUD), contraceptive implant or coil (IUS).

It isn’t just doctors who can issue prescriptions for hormonal contraception. Prescribing pharmacists and nurses can also write a prescription when they see fit.

Over-the-counter contraception

In 2021 the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced that desogestrel mini pills, Hana and Lovima, are available to be bought without a prescription. It is possible that more methods of contraception will be available without a prescription in the future.

At the moment, combined oral contraceptive pills are not available over-the-counter.

Sexual health clinics and family planning centres

Sexual health clinics, also known as family planning centres, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics or reproductive clinics, provide a number of services related to sexual health - including contraception and emergency contraception.

When you visit a sexual health clinic all your details will be treated confidentially. This includes any information provided by young women and children who are between the ages of 13 and 16 years. Sexual health clinics will never contact your family about your visit or your contraception use. You can take a friend with you to your appointment if you feel like it.

If you’re visiting a sexual health clinic for the first time, you should expect to be asked to provide some basic details about yourself like your name, date of birth and contact details. You may be asked about your past contraceptive use and sexual health history - certain clinics may offer to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The contraception you’re provided with should always be free, and if you decide on certain types of contraception, such as the implant, you may need to return later for a second appointment.

Getting contraception with the NHS

You can also get hold of contraception via a GP appointment with the NHS. You can talk to your local GP or practice nurse about getting hold of contraception.

Typically, you may be asked some questions about your sexual health history and what your expectations are about contraception, especially if you’re consulting for the first time. There are roughly 15 methods of contraception, so finding the right one can come down to a chat between you and your doctor. All methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and you can always switch if a particular method isn’t working for you.

Your GP will prescribe birth control after a basic consultation. Even if you’re under the age of 16, your doctor will treat the information you provide as entirely confidential. As long as they believe you fully understand the information you’ve been provided with - then getting contraception is no more difficult than if you were older. They will not tell your family you’ve sought contraception, unless they feel you’re in danger.

Boots, Lloyds, Superdrug and high street pharmacies

You can take your prescription for contraception to high street pharmacies such as Boots, Lloyds and Superdrug.

The main contraceptive methods you’ll get in a pharmacy are those which can be self-administered, like the pill, patch or ring. For things like the implant or IUD, a doctor or sexual health nurse will need to fit them.

However, some contraceptive methods do not require a prescription to be issued. This includes condoms, but also two branded mini pills - Hana and Lovima. These were reclassified as pharmacy medicines in 2021. This means you do not need a prescription to access them. A pharmacist or independent prescriber will be able to perform a quick consultation to ensure they’re suitable for you.

Getting contraception from Tesco, ASDA and Sainsbury's

Many large supermarkets like Tesco, ASDA and Sainsbury’s also operate in-store pharmacies, where you can have your prescriptions processed. Using an in-store pharmacy can be convenient and accessible for a lot of people.

Getting contraception online

It’s also possible to get your pill online in the UK. If you want to order contraception online, you’ll normally need a private prescription to do so. This can also mean that you have to pay for the cost of your medication too.

Some online pharmacies do allow for NHS prescribing services, meaning you may be able to renew an NHS prescription using a nominated online pharmacy.

If you want to get contraception online, you’ll likely have to answer some questions about your general health. A medical professional will then review your responses and prescribe birth control if they are satisfied that it is safe to do so. Sometimes, the cost of consultation, prescription, medication and delivery are all included in one price.

Buying contraception online can be more preferable because it is sometimes quicker, more convenient and more discreet than doing so in person.

Buying contraception safely online

It’s important to make sure you buy medications online safely. There are some checks you can perform to ensure where you’re buying from is the real deal.

  1. In the UK, online pharmacies must be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and will display a green badge with a unique identity number. This may be at the very top, or bottom, of their website. 
  2. Online pharmacies can also be registered with the Care and Quality Commission (CQC), a healthcare standards regulatory body. They perform audits of clinical processes and safety procedures and give ratings based on certain criteria.
  3. Who is prescribing your medication? Doctors who prescribe in the UK must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC), and independent prescribers and pharmacists must be registered with the GPhC in order to safely prescribe medicine – including contraception.

If something doesn’t feel right then it’s probably best to take a pause before you go ahead and place an order.

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This page was medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead on August 02, 2022. Next review due on August 01, 2024.

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