Contraceptive pills are available to buy over the counter in pharmacies for the first time in the UK.
Until now women have needed a prescription to get the pill.
The change has been allowed for two types of progesterone-only, so-called “mini pills” because they were reclassified by the UK drugs regulator.
Hana and Lovima tablets have been deemed safe for use by most women.
Purchasers will still need to have a consultation with a pharmacist before being sold the tablets, which cost as little as £7.50 for a month’s supply.
Pharmacist Bina Mehta told Sky News: “This is a landmark in the history of women’s health. Ever since the contraceptive pill first came about over 60 years ago, if a woman wanted to get hold of a contraceptive medication they needed to make an appointment to see a GP. Now it’s so much more accessible.
“I think there’s going to be a great demand for this. You don’t need to make an appointment.”
Contraceptive pills have been available to purchase over the counter abroad for many years. Ms Mehta says the reason it’s taken so long in Britain is to ensure the risk of side effects is very low.
“I think it’s because we just want to make absolutely sure it’s very safe. By it coming off the prescription-only medicine licence it means we need to look at the safety profile of the medication and this medicine has now been available and has been very popular for over 30 years with a good safety profile,” she said.
Combined contraceptive pills that also contain oestrogen and can have more severe side effects will still require a prescription.
Lauren Dyer, 34, from Tamworth in Staffordshire, developed two blood clots on her lungs after taking a combined pill and ended up seriously ill in hospital.
She believes women should have to consult with a doctor before taking any kind of contraceptive pill.
“If you’re looking to be on a contraceptive – that’s any type of birth control – it needs to be discussed with your GP because it should be done on a case-by-case basis to make sure that any symptoms or side effects that you may get from any birth control is discussed with you.”
When the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency announced the change for the progesterone-only pills which contain desogestrel, synthetic progesterone, earlier this month, its chief executive Dr June Raine said it was “good news for women and families”.
She said: “Pharmacists have the expertise to advise women on whether desogestrel is an appropriate and safe oral contraceptive pill for them to use and to give women the information they need to make informed choices.
“We have consulted a wide range of people to enable us to reach the decision to make this contraceptive available for the first time in the UK without prescription. We received many responses to our consultation, the majority of which supported this approach.”
Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, described the announcement as a “huge win for women and girls” who will no longer face unnecessary barriers when accessing contraception.
He added: “Even before the pandemic, too many women and girls were struggling to access basic women’s health services.
“The consequences of this include an increase in the number of unplanned pregnancies, which can result in poorer outcomes for women and their babies.”