Medical card holders will no longer have to go to their GP for a prescription for the morning-after-pill from July 1, writes Catherine Shanahan.
Instead, women can go straight to the pharmacy, as private patients have been able to do for the past five years.
The extension of the GMS scheme to include the provision of emergency contraception will be announced today by Health Minister Simon Harris at the annual meeting of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) in Croke Park.
While the pill is available over-the-counter to anyone prepared to pay for it, a spokesperson for the minister said he was of the view that the requirement for medical card holders to have a prescription in order to avail of it for free was “an unfair anomaly and a barrier to timely treatment”.
“The minister believes that all women, irrespective of their means, should have the same access to emergency contraception,” a spokesperson said.
The IPU welcomed the move saying it “addresses a longstanding injustice and anomaly for these women who, up to now, had to go to their GP to get a prescription if they wished to get emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) on the medical card”.
The IPU pointed out that emergency contraception “is time sensitive and that its effectiveness diminishes between the time of unprotected sex and the time of taking it, emphasising both the importance of all women being able to readily access it and thus the value of the convenience and accessibility offered by community pharmacies”.
“The necessity to attend a GP for a prescription has always been an unnecessary barrier and has also meant that the poorest and most vulnerable women in Irish society have not been treated equitably with private patients in terms of access to EHC,” the IPU said.
A study published in 2010 showed that of 1,696 women who received the emergency pill within 72 hours of sex, just 37 became pregnant.
The health minister is due to address the IPU conference this morning before travelling to Wexford to address delegates at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation annual conference in the afternoon.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.