Close to two-thirds (61%) of all women in the UK have used emergency contraception at some point in their lives – a higher rate than any country in the European Union – yet until now we’ve had to pay up to five times as much for the morning-after pill as our European counterparts.
The pill can cost upwards of £30 in the UK, while in France it can be bought for as little as £6, according to research from the European Consortium for Emergency Contraception. It’s possible to get it for free in the UK from sexual health clinics, some pharmacies and elsewhere, but often it’s easier and – crucially – quicker just to bite the bullet and shell out the ridiculous sum.
But one high street retailer has just made our lives a whole lot easier – and cheaper. Superdrug has launched a generic emergency hormonal contraceptive pill (EHC), which will be available at half the price of the current branded morning-after pills.
At just £13.49, it costs less than half the price of what it could cost at a pharmacy. Sure, it's still more than twice as expensive as it would be in France, but it's no doubt a step in the right direction.
The pill contains levonorgestrel 1.5mg (the same active ingredient found in the branded Levonelle One Step). It can be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex or if a usual contraceptive method has failed, but it's recommended to take it as soon after unprotected sex as possible. It works by delaying the ovaries from releasing an egg.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has welcomed the move. Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said the organisation was "delighted" by Superdrug's "trailblazing step" and that it looks forward to other major retailers following its lead.
"We know the high cost of emergency contraception can be a major barrier to women accessing it when their regular method fails. Superdrug has illustrated that where appropriate it's perfectly possible to sell this safe and effective medication to women at a significantly more affordable price than is currently on offer."
Furedi continued: "There is frankly now no excuse for others not to do the same. We will keep campaigning on this issue until all retailers do the right thing and offer women a fairly priced product, as Superdrug is doing today."
Michael Henry, Superdrug's healthcare director, said the company is "committed to leading the way in sexual health and offering a generic emergency contraceptive pill at half the price of what’s currently available on the high street."
He added: "Its availability will give women more choice and access to this medication at a time when they are most in need.” Too right. Your move, Boots.