From next year, pharmacists in London will pilot a scheme giving women the option of receiving the contraceptive pill without the need for a GP prescription, it has been revealed.
Funding has been given to Lambeth and Southwark Primary Care Trusts to trial the scheme and help determine whether it would be suitable for rolling out across the rest of the country.
Women will be able to obtain the oral contraceptive after an interview with a qualified pharmacist. If the pilots are successful, the pill will be given the same status as the morning-after pill, which can already be picked up without direct authorisation from a doctor.
Health minister Lord Darzi insisted last year that "robust" standards would be put in place to ensure that staff were up to the job.
The move requires a senior clinician at strategic health authorities to issue instructions called patient group directions (PGDs) to pharmacists.
PGDs are documents that make it legal for medicines to be given to groups of patients without the need for individual GP prescriptions.
These arrangements are currently in place for the morning-after pill. Separate PGDs are needed to give the pill to under-16s.
Such arrangements are currently in place for the morning-after pill and involve the pharmacist assessing whether a youngster is mentally competent.