UK citizens to access contraceptive pills without GP sign-off. Is convenience worth the risk?

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published May 19, 2023 at 09:15 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

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On 9 May 2023, Twitter split in a half after the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a groundbreaking change in the way citizens access healthcare.

Imagine skipping the tiresome wait that unavoidably comes with trying to get a hold of your doctor and instead being able to directly order your prescription by calling your local pharmacy. In other words, the UK government is considering enabling pharmacists to prescribe certain medications without requiring a GP’s sign-off.

While this proposal has its supporters, concerns have also been raised about potential risks surrounding its implementation, particularly when it comes to women’s experiences with contraceptive pills. Let’s dive into the potential pros and important cons of this upcoming healthcare upheaval.

The pros

1. Convenience at your fingertips

Say goodbye to early morning phone queues. With this new system, ordering medication will become as simple as placing a quick call to your local pharmacy. No more waiting anxiously to secure an appointment with your busy GP.

2. Easing the burden on GP services

Allowing pharmacists to prescribe medication for minor illnesses like earaches and sore throats could reduce the strain on GP services. By redirecting patients with less complex conditions to pharmacists, the NHS can focus more on critical cases and specialised care.

3. Accessibility for all

This process could also be a game-changer for individuals with mobility issues or limited access to GP services. Patients who find it difficult to reach their doctors’ offices will be able to conveniently obtain necessary medications through their local pharmacy. There’s also the fact that some people find the doctors to be an incredibly stressful and stress-inducing environment—this change eliminates those potential fears.

The cons

Picture this: you wake up, grab your phone, and dial your local pharmacy’s number to get your contraceptive pill delivered straight to your doorstep. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Well, hold on a second, because there are a few things we need to consider first.

While the proposal to allow pharmacists to prescribe contraceptive pills without the need for a doctor’s appointment may seem convenient, many women, including myself, have raised some concerns regarding the safety of taking contraceptive tablets without a doctor’s examination and whether there might be negative health implications as a result of this new idea.

First of all, contraceptive pills are powerful medications that affect hormone levels in the body. Without proper medical guidance and evaluation, women may be at a higher risk of experiencing unforeseen side effects. These side effects can range from mild symptoms such as nausea, headaches, or changes in menstrual patterns to more serious conditions such as blood clots, hypertension and high blood pressure.

It’s also important to note that individuals may react differently to various types of contraceptive pills, and a doctor’s expertise is crucial in finding the most suitable option based on individual health factors.

A doctor’s appointment for contraceptive prescription provides an opportunity for a comprehensive health check-up. During this visit, doctors can assess a woman’s overall health, evaluate any existing medical conditions, and identify potential risks or contraindications for certain contraceptive methods. 

By skipping this vital step, underlying health issues that could impact the choice of contraception might go undetected, putting women at an increased risk of complications, like that of blood clots or even strokes.

SCREENSHOT spoke to Sarah, 28, and Maddie, 26, to get their thoughts on the matter.

“My friend was repeatedly diagnosed with cystitis over the phone, given antibiotics that didn’t work, and then suddenly collapsed at work. Terrifying, right?” Sarah shared. “The misdiagnosis led to a delayed diagnosis of bladder cancer. Fortunately, she’s now received timely treatment, including tumour removal and chemotherapy,” she went on to add, clearly stating her disapproval of the new process.

Maddie echoed some of Sarah’s worries: “I was really concerned. I don’t think it’s safe for women. How about the rest of us being able to use the GP, in a reasonable time frame… Is that too much responsibility for the government?”

The opinions shared by both Sarah and Maddie highlight the importance of a doctor’s expertise in accurate diagnosis, monitoring, and follow-up. Misdiagnosis can lead to delayed treatments and, in severe cases, life-threatening consequences. Women’s health should never be compromised, and ensuring proper medical oversight becomes even more critical when dealing with powerful medications like contraceptive pills.

We also had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Erica, a 29 year old nurse who has been working for the NHS for the past three years.

One of the first things we touched upon was whether or not Erica felt that Sunak’s proposal was going to help the NHS. In response she stated: “No, we have worked tirelessly for the last three years and most of us are still suffering from the physical and mental exhaustion from the pandemic. P, our work has doubled but our pay hasn’t increased to match.”

The medical professional continued: “The help in workload has not happened and we have already burned out. More focus has to be made to help nurses in dealing with their own health and wellbeing—something that’s been greatly impacted by the pandemic. I have colleagues who had to take a mental break from nursing for the first time in their long careers.”

We concluded our conversation by asking Erica how she feels the role of GP nurses might evolve in the future, and what impact the new proposal will have on demand in the nursing profession. She mused: “The skills required nowadays from a nurse have evolved and will continue to become more and more complex. The demand for nurses will not go down and will just increase as more people are living longer and suffering from more long-term conditions like diabetes, and high blood pressure. This has been a focus of the workforce crisis within the NHS for years now and it is not likely to diminish. But what I see is the government is not tackling the issue in an efficient way.”

So, as we navigate the possibilities of a more accessible health system, and while we love the idea of making our lives easier, it is crucial to keep our health at the forefront. The proposal to expand pharmacist prescriptions requires careful consideration and a well-thought out balance between convenience and quality care.

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