Some pharmacists pose a barrier to EHC access, says Government

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Some pharmacists pose a barrier to EHC access, says Government

A Government call for evidence on the standard of women’s health services has received reports of pharmacists acting as a barrier to women accessing emergency contraception.

The Government last week published a report summarising written responses from 436 organisations and experts to support the development of its Women’s Health Strategy. It looked at menopause and fertility services, gynaecological and other cancers and mental health, as well as access to sexual health services.

“Organisations and experts flagged that some groups of women are likely to experience greater barriers to being listened to by healthcare professionals or accessing the sexual and reproductive health services they need,” the report said.

For example, it cites anecdotal reports that “some women” have been unable to access emergency hormonal contraception or have been dissuaded from using it “because of family or community ties to pharmacists who hold specific religious beliefs about sex before marriage and pregnancy termination”.

In recent years there have been occasional high profile media reports of women being unable to access EHC from community pharmacies due to a pharmacist’s religious beliefs, with locums sometimes presenting particular barriers to access. 

LloydsPharmacy told Pharmacy Network News last year that it had updated its locum booking system to prevent women being refused access to EHC in its stores.

The report recommends providing “better education and guidance for healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, on providing women with unbiased information on the different types of contraceptives (including emergency contraception) available”.

Other barriers cited in the report include “geographical variations” in how sexual and reproductive health services are commissioned and funded. For example, according to Government estimates almost half of local councils have slashed the number of sites offering contraceptive services since 2015.

Commenting on the report, women’s health minister Maria Caulfield said: “For generations, women have lived in a healthcare system primarily designed by men, for men. We are committed to tackling the gender health gap, and the publication of our strategy later this year will mark a significant step forward.

“I want to thank the expert individuals and organisations who took the time to respond to our call for evidence. The insights you have provided here have been stark and sobering, but will be pivotal to ensuring our strategy represents the first-hand experiences of the healthcare system.”

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