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Emergency Hormonal Contraception

Health Minister, Simon Harris, has signed a statutory instrument changing access to emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) for medical card holders.

From the beginning of this month medical card holders are able to obtain EHC directly from a pharmacy, free of charge, without having to go to their GP for a prescription first.

EHC is an over the counter treatment. However, medical card holders currently need a GP’s prescription to get EHC through the medical card scheme.

From July 1, medical card holders have been able to obtain EHC directly from their pharmacist, following a consultation, without a prescription from their GP.

The Minister said, “This is an important public health measure and will remove any barrier to medical card patients getting timely treatment from their local pharmacy. This is about equity of access for all our citizens.”

In dispensing EHC, pharmacies are required to comply with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) professional practice guidelines on dispensing over the counter EHC and on advising patients.

In the 12 months to August 2016 (the latest figures available), just under 13,000 EHC prescriptions were dispensed in the community drugs schemes. Of these, over 12,000 were for medical card holders.

The Department of Health said the situation might arise where a pharmacist was not able to provide emergency contraception or other treatment, or had personal reasons for not wishing to do so. The statutory code of conduct for pharmacists required that, where they were unable to provide a service, they take reasonable action to ensure the patient’s care was not jeopardised. In practice, the patient should be referred to another pharmacist, pharmacy or health service.

All pharmacists must subscribe to this Code. If a patient is unhappy with the conduct of a pharmacy or pharmacist in this or any other matter, they should contact the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, which regulates the profession.