Pharmacists are urging the Government to move forward with plans to introduce free contraception services in chemists.
The Minister for Health has said that work is already underway to examine the possibility of introducing free contraception to women across the country.
However, pharmacists are also calling for the need for a doctor’s prescription to be removed, meaning women wouldn't need to see a GP to access the pill, the patch or the ring.
If given permission to roll out the service, all women would be offered access to contraception under a system similar to that used to provide patients with the flu jab without a doctor’s referral.
The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment recommended free access to the 'most effective method of contraception' and Dara O'Loughlin from the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) says the Health Minister Simon Harris aims to meet that recommendation.
“Well it is the minister’s vision that this will be free, that contraceptives should be available free to all women whether they have a medical card or not,” he said.
“Because what he wants to do is reduce as far as possible the number of crisis pregnancies – and we still do have quite a few crisis pregnancies in Ireland.”
IPU president Daragh Connolly says the plan might stop patients turning to the Internet:
“We are starting to see more and more online consultations over smart-phones or over web-cams with doctors who are remotely based and patients are coming to us asking us to check their blood pressure or check their body Mass Index (BMI) so it is safe for us to dispense what has been prescribed for them online,” he said.
GPs are objecting to the plans however, insisting they are capable of offering patients more services than can be accessed in a pharmacy.
Former IMO president Ray Walley said seeing your doctor is not “just about contraception.”
“If somebody comes into a GP, it is about talking about consent; it is about sexually transmitted diseases (STI), safe sex; it is about smear – we are talking about a conversation which involves comprehensive sexual health.”
The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) recently warned of a crisis in general practice that could see Irish patients facing ever-longer waiting lists to see their doctor.
Members warned that young, highly trained doctors are emigrating due to emergency cuts introduced during the financial crash.
Approximately 12% of women in Ireland are using long-acting contraception – however that proportion would be likely to rise somewhat if the cost barrier was removed.
It is believed free contraception would cost the exchequer around €92 per woman annually.