Pharmacies are increasingly offering a variety of sexual and reproductive health services, providing advice, supplying contraception and in some instances testing and treating some sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Some areas of the country have seen a reduced service from sexual health clinics in recent years. In addition it has been harder for some people to get GP appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that pharmacists are developing their sexual and reproductive health services to offer more support.
Community pharmacies are uniquely accessible settings, due to their proximity and the high level of trust people have in the support they will receive.
Pharmacies are often open in the evenings and at weekends and, usually, no appointment is needed.
Pharmacies have consultation rooms where patients can request they discuss sensitive issues with a pharmacist without being overheard and in complete confidence. Pharmacists are used to talking about anything and everything relating to health, so please don’t think they will be fazed by the subject matter.
Pharmacists cannot undertake a genital examination; however, they are able to provide advice and supply medication over-the-counter for a number of sexual health conditions.
Your pharmacist will be able to identify the suitability of a product and any issues that might need further consultation. They can provide advice and support, including information about how to take the product safely and tell you about any potential side-effects.
They also undertake appropriate safeguarding training, to identify cases of possible sexual abuse or exploitation.
Some pharmacies offer home-testing kits for some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs, but it doesn’t always have symptoms so it’s worth checking for as it can affect fertility and cause long-term complications. Chlamydia testing is free via pharmacies (as a home testing kit) if it’s an NHS-funded service which is available in some areas. Otherwise it is a paid-for service.
HIV self-test kits are also available from some pharmacies, but they usually have to be paid for.
For anyone thinking of using a self-test kit, it is a good idea to get advice from a health professional first. Although self-test kits are not 100% accurate, they can indicate whether someone has a particular condition.
Using a self-test kit may not be appropriate for everyone and it’s important to remember that medication may affect the results. So, if a patient has any concerns, they should speak to a pharmacist. They can also advise on the range of self-test kits available.
What may your pharmacist be able to help you with?
Some of the sexual health issues that your pharmacist may be able to help you with include:
✚ Contraception and emergency contraception.
✚ Testing for some STIs and dispensing of treatment.
✚ Vaccine bookings (hepatitis B, HPV).
✚ Thrush treatment.
✚ Bacterial vaginosis.
✚ Urinary tract infection (UTI) treatments.
✚ Advice and products to help with sexual difficulties such as erectile dysfunction and menopausal vaginal atrophy.
Feel free to talk to your local pharmacist about any matter concerning your health and wellbeing. They provide advice and reassurance, not just pills.
Contraceptive pills over the counter
For the first time, progestogen-only contraceptive pills will be available from pharmacies without prescription, increasing the ways in which women can access contraception.
The products that have been reclassified from Prescription Only Medicines – Lovima and Hana – are both oral contraceptives for continuous use to prevent pregnancy.
Emergency hormonal contraception (the “morning after pill”) has already been available in some pharmacies for many years, often commissioned by the NHS or local authority, as well as being supplied over the counter.
This new development is a further step towards improving access to sexual health services for women.
The National Pharmacy Association is supporting a campaign to see the HIV prevention drug, PrEP, available from community pharmacies as well as sexual health clinics.
The NPA was a co-signatory on a letter in May from Elliot Colburn MP, the Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS, to the then Chief Executive of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, to call for wider access.
The letter said: “If we are to meet our ambitions of ending all new cases of HIV by 2030, much wider awareness of, and access to, PrEP needs to be ensured. A key plank of this must be access to PrEP in health care settings other than just sexual health clinics.”
The letter was also signed by the chief executives of HIV charities the National AIDS Trust and the Terrence Higgins Trust.