Pharmacists have called for a scheme to enable women to access contraception directly from them without prescription. However GPs have expressed concern about the idea.
The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) insists that pharmacists can play an important role in improving women's access to contraception. It has proposed that the Department of Health and Health Service Executive (HSE) put in place a scheme to enable women to access contraception directly from their community pharmacist without prescription.
The IPU pointed out that pharmacists have been directly providing emergency contraception without the need for a prescription since 2011, and most women now obtain emergency contraception from pharmacists rather than GPs.
"Access to birth control is a major public health issue because of the risk of unwanted pregnancies. By making birth control easier and more convenient to obtain, more women will use it, which should result in reduced rates of unintended pregnancy.
"There are no clinical reasons why oral contraceptives should still require a prescription. The oral contraceptive is one of the safest and most well studied medicines available," commented IPU president, Daragh Connolly.
However, the GP Committee of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has criticised the IPU's proposal, insisting that it would undermine efforts to provide women with a comprehensive sexual health programme.
According to Dr Padraig McGarry of the IMO, such a move is ‘part of a trend of trying to disengage patients from regular contact with their GPs when such contact is vital to ensure that there is a well-established link between GPs and patients, and a rounded knowledge of a patient's circumstances and health record'.
"The GP/patient relationship works best when there is a strong familiarity between the GP and the patient and a full understanding of the different issues involved in a patient's health. To remove GPs from this relationship around such an important issue as sexual health could lead to unintended consequences and lost knowledge," Dr McGarry said.
He also warned that such a move would go against the practice of maintaining a distance between the prescriber and provider of medicines.
"Removing that separation runs the risk of incentivising the retailer of medicines to dispense for the sake of dispensing rather than on the basis of understood healthcare needs," he suggested.
Meanwhile the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) described the IPU's proposal as ‘completely flawed'.
"The NAGP are appealing for more integration of healthcare in Ireland. We should strive for primary care that is patient-centred, comprehensive, team based, coordinated, accessible, and focused on quality and safety of our population.
"This IPU proposal will lead to the further disintegration of our health service and that is neither good for the patient nor the health service as a whole," commented NAGP president, Dr Maitiu O Tuathail.