Emergency contraception from the pharmacy 20 years on: a mystery shopper study

Anna Glasier, Paula Baraitser, Lisa McDaid, John Norrie, Andrew Radley, Judith M. Stephenson, Claire Battison, Richard Gilson, Sharon Cameron (Lead / Corresponding author),

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Background: Emergency contraception (EC) was approved in the UK as a pharmacy medicine for purchase without prescription in 1991. Twenty years later we conducted a study to characterise routine practice pharmacy provision of EC.

Study design: Mystery shopper study of 30 pharmacies in Edinburgh, Dundee and London participating in a clinical trial of contraception after EC.

Methods: Mystery shoppers, aged ≥16 years, followed a standard scenario requesting EC. After the pharmacy visit, they completed a proforma recording the duration of the consultation, where it took place, and whether advice was given to them about the importance of ongoing contraception after EC.

Results: Fifty-five mystery shopper visits were conducted. The median reported duration of the consultation with the pharmacist was 6 (range 1-18) min. Consultations took place in a private room in 34 cases (62%) and at the shop counter in the remainder. In 27 cases (49%) women received advice about ongoing contraception. Eleven women (20%) left the pharmacy without EC due to lack of supplies or of a trained pharmacist. Most women were generally positive about the consultation.

Conclusions: While availability of EC from UK pharmacies has undoubtedly improved access, the necessity to have a consultation, however helpful, with a pharmacist introduces delays and around one in five of our mystery shoppers left without getting EC. Consultations in private are not always possible and little advice is given about ongoing contraception. It is time to make EC available without a pharmacy consultation.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
JournalBMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health
Early online date17 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jun 2020


  • contraceptive agents, female
  • contraceptives, postcoital
  • pharmaceutical services
  • surveys and questionnaires

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