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New plans being considered by the Department of Health could see charges for the morning-after-pill be abolished or significantly reduced, as part of the Government's new sexual health programme.

Speaking yesterday, Health Minister Simon Harris outlined plans for a comprehensive women's health programme which will aim to allow for greater access to condoms, emergency contraception, as well as a potential price decrease for the everyday contraceptive pill with a view to making it completely free in the future. 

As it stands, the emergency contraceptive pill can cost anywhere between €15-€50, while the everyday contraceptive pill costs an average of €10 per month (not including the GP fee). 

According to The Journal, a new three-year education programme will also be rolled out in schools across the country which will include enhanced resources and lesson plans around the subject of sexual health. 

As well as that, the new programme will also include a 'safer sex' advertising campaign and sexual health promotion training for professionals in youth sector, those working with at-risk groups, and for parents. 

Minister Simon Harris stressed that these changes will go ahead, regardless of the result of the upcoming referendum on the legalisation of abortion services. 

“I want to make it clear that these initiatives can and will be implemented even if the proposed referendum is not passed,” he said.

It's understood the proposed initiatives will be funded in 2019, which, according to the Minister, will give him time to prepare the ground for the changes. 

 

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From July 2017, medical card holder will be able to get the morning-after pill for free, directly from a pharmacy.

Currently, medical card holders must make an appointment with their GP in order to access the medication free of charge, however once this move comes into action, no doctors visit or prescription will be required.

Minster for Health, Simon Harris, signed the change into law yesterday after announcing his intention to do so last month.

Pharmacists are welcoming the move as they say they are healthcare professionals with the competence to dispense such medication to their patients.

They also argued that it was not fair to restrict a medicine known to work with greater effect when taken sooner.

Five years ago, restrictions on the availability of the medication were lifted when it was decided that private patients could purchase the product over the counter from pharmacies.  

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The morning-after-pill will now be available to medical card holders without a GP visit.

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has announced this morning that people with medical cards will have access to emergency contraception directly from their pharmacies, free of charge from July 2017.

'Announcing this morning that access to emergency contraception directly through the pharmacy will be available on the General Medical Services scheme from July,' he said, speaking at the Irish Pharmacy Union this morning.

'All women – regardless of means – should have access to emergency contraception through their pharmacy. This measure will ensure this,' he continued, according to the Journal.

The Irish Pharmacy Union welcomed the development, saying that it 'addresses a longstanding injustice and anomaly for these women who, up to now, had to go to their GP to get a prescription if they wished to get emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) on the medical card.'

'It is time sensitive and that its effectiveness diminishes between the time of unprotected sex and the time of taking it, emphasising both the importance of all women being able to readily access it and thus the value of the convenience and accessibility offered by community pharmacies.'

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Whether you went to a Catholic school with the nuns or a liberal non-denominational, having “the talk” has never been easy as a young Irish person.

The focus of most sexual education is purely mechanical, and while contraception is discussed it’s definitely not always an in-depth topic.

That’s why it’s not surprising that new national research of Irish women carried out by HRA Pharma has revealed that 80 percent of Irish women have some serious misconceptions about the morning after pill.

Indeed, 36 percent of Irish women surveyed said that they had heard that the morning after pill works by triggering a “mini-abortion,” which simply isn’t true.

The morning after pill works by delaying an egg’s release, so when the sperm arrives at the fallopian tubes there will be no egg there waiting to consummate the meeting.

It works pretty much just like the regular contraceptive pill, just in an emergency context, but taking the morning after pill wont effect your regular pill either.

A photo posted by Fanny (@fame_paris) on

Women also seemed to think that the morning after pill is hard to find, with almost a quarter of women viewing the pill as being difficult to access.

The pill is available over the counter at almost all Irish pharmacies, including Boots, and there is no prescription necessary unless you need to get it free on the medical card.

There are also plenty of different types of morning after pills to suit whatever stage of post-coitus you’re at.

One of the most serious misconceptions Irish women have is that taking the morning after pill more than once will make them infertile.

“Emergency contraception has no effect on future fertility,” according to HRA Pharma.

More than one in ten (11 percent) of Irish women surveyed also said that they had heard that emergency contraception can be taken any time after having unprotected sex and will still be effective, but like all things that sound too good to be true, this is.

The sooner you use emergency contraception after sex, the more effective it will be, and most pills can only be taken up to five days after the big event.

With all of these misconceptions, along with the sky-high price of the pills in Ireland, it’s no wonder that there is still an associated stigma attached to emergency contraceptives.

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It's hard to belive that just over a decade ago, the morning after pill was illegal on Irish shores.

While it was legalised in 2003, it has only been available from your local pharmacy since 2011, with a consultation.

According to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the morning-after pill should be available to buy straight from pharmacy shelves without the need for a private patient consultation.

These consultations usually consist of a short meeting to discus general details, allergies, and contraceptive methods, according to one pharmacist.

The price of these pills comes in at about €35, the highest price in Europe, and according to the BPAS "women are paying the ultimate sexist surcharge on their sex lives,"because of the inflated price.

The emergency contraceptive is available on the medical card, but only after a GP visit to procure a prescription.

"This is neither right nor fair," says the BPAS.

"It is utterly stupid that we have made a medication which gives women a second chance of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy so hard to obtain,” said Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS.

BPAS is calling on the Department of Health to reclassify the morning-after pill as a general sales list drug, which would allow people to buy it directly from shop shelves like condoms. 

“There is no financial justification for the high price of this pill, nor clinical reason for a consultation before it can be sold," said the chief executive.  

According to the BPAS, eliminating the need for the consultation could drive down the price of the pills.

The price of the pill has been branded as "sexist," after one Pharmaceutical Journal report said that the price was to ensure women wouldn't take the pill often.

"The price has been set, in part, to ensure that EHC is not used as a regular method of contraception," it read.

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