Under-16s could get morning-after pill from chemists


Last updated at 08:59 05 August 2004

Pharmacists may be told they can sell the morning-after pill to girls under 16.

The highly controversial move follows guidance issued by the Government last week.

The Department of Health came under fire from family groups after telling doctors they had an obligation to keep advice on abortions for under 16s secret from parents.

The move was condemned as depriving mothers and fathers of involvement in possibly the most important decision their daughter ever makes.

The revised guidelines followed the case of 14-year-old Melissa Smith, who was allowed to have a secret abortion last May after speaking to a community health worker at her school. Now the Royal Pharmaceutical Society is stirring up further controversy by advising its members that the same guidelines could apply to them.


The advice was based on the so-called Gillick judgment, delivered when Victoria Gillick asked a court to rule that doctors could not prescribe contraceptives to girls under 16 without telling parents.

She lost the case in the House of Lords in 1986, but it was only last week that the Government issued advice to doctors that the ruling should also apply to abortions.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the regulatory body for thousands of Britain's pharmacists, said yesterday it would look at issuing new advice on the morning-after pill by the autumn.

A spokesman said it had now become a 'grey area' and added: "Pharmacists have a duty to the care of patients of all ages. There is an ability to provide contraception services to under 16s following the Gillick guidelines and the guidelines (by the DoH) which reinforce that."

The Government is already running controversial pilot projects in inner-city areas where pharmacists and school nurses are allowed to give the morning-after pill without a prescription.

In the rest of the country girls under 16 have to go to their GP for a prescription.

Senior Labour MP Howard Stoate, chairman of the all-party pharmacy group, is calling on the Government to clarify the law.

He said last night: "I am saying it is illogical and I will be asking ministers to review the law."

The new guidance has already dismayed family campaigners who warn making contraception freely available without parental consent will not stem the tide of unwanted teenage pregnancies and the spread of sexual diseases.

There is also concern that the powerful dose of hormones in the pill, which prevents an embryo implanting in the womb, may have health effects which are not yet known.