Press Release

Minister Harris gives go-ahead to allow direct access to emergency contraception for medical card holders

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

Minister Harris said “From next month medical card holders will be 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 1st July, medical card holders will be able to obtain EHC directly from their pharmacist, following a consultation, without a prescription from their GP. 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”.

Note for Editors:

How is emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) supplied in Ireland?

· EHC is classified by the Health Products Regulatory Authority as an over the counter treatment. Anyone can go to a pharmacy and buy it, without needing a prescription. There are currently three EHC products available in Ireland.
· 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.

How do medical card holders get EHC?

· EHC is available free to medical card holders on the General Medical Services (GMS) Scheme, provided the patient has a doctor’s prescription. A medical card holder can also purchase EHC without a prescription.
· From 1 July medical card holders will be able to get EHC free from their pharmacy without a prescription, however they will still be able to go to their GP for a prescription if they wish.

· 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.
Are there access issues for medical card holders?

· There may be an issue for people who need EHC but can’t get a prescription in time – such as at the weekend or if they can’t get an urgent doctor’s appointment – and they can’t afford to buy it.

What happens if a pharmacy or pharmacist will not provide EHC or other treatment?

· The situation may arise where a pharmacist is not able to provide emergency contraception or other treatment, or has personal reasons for not wishing to do so.

· The statutory code of conduct for pharmacists requires that, where they unable to provide a service, they take reasonable action to ensure the patient’s care is 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.