Everything you need to know about free contraception offer

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After a year-long wait, thousands of women across Ireland are now eligible for free contraception from their GP.

The scheme was first announced by the government as part of last year’s Budget outline. Finally, the measure was introduced today.

Women aged between 17 and 25 can ask their GP for a free prescription for contraception. Within this scheme, women will be advised on which contraceptive would suit their lifestyle best, how to collect the product from their local pharmacist, and they will also be asked to attend routine follow-up appointments to ensure that the contraception is working as it should.

The chair of the Irish Medical Organisation GP Committee, Dr Denis McCauley, has provided assurance that young women attending university will be able to access the scheme while on campus. 

“There is an initial consultation, then a prescription,” he explained. “If that is for the pill then that’s that over, and if it is for a coil or implant, they go and get that prescription filled and come back to the GP.”

The scheme has been met with some roadblocks and criticism. Dr Mike Thompson from the IMO GP Committee has expressed concerns that the scheme has been rolled out too quickly, and that more time was needed to finalise the funding for the scheme, to ensure that pharmacies are able to give out contraception free of charge. The scheme is expected to cost €28m annually.

“It has been a little rushed,” Dr Thompson noted, adding that many pharmacies had assumed that the rollout wouldn’t begin until early next year. 

The National Women’s Council of Ireland has also vocalised their frustration that the free contraception is only being offered to a specific age range. Although the NWCI has hailed it as a “groundbreaking step”, they say that more needs to be done. 

“The need for contraception doesn’t end at 25”, insisted the NWCI’s head of policy, Jennifer McCarthy-Flynn. “Women of all ages must be able to access the contraception most suited to them, no matter their financial circumstances.”

GPs offering the service will be advertising its availability from today. Patients are being advised to check with their local doctor first.

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