Thursday, 23 June 2022
Department of Health
416. To ask the Minister for Health if he will develop a scheme to enable women access contraception directly from their community pharmacist without prescription and without charge, regardless of eligibility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33347/22]
The Programme for Government, 2020 commits to providing free contraception for women, starting with the 17-25 age cohort. My Department's Contraception Implementation Group was convened in July, 2021 and has been working with partners, including the HSE, towards ensuring that the scheme will commence in Q3, 2022. Funding of approximately €9m has been allocated for this in Budget 2022.
The scheme will provide for:
- The cost of prescription contraception;
- The cost of necessary consultations with medical professionals to discuss suitable contraception for individual patients and to enable prescription of same;
- The cost of fitting and/or removal of various types of long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs) plus any necessary checks, by medical professionals certified to fit/remove same;
- The cost of training and certifying additional medical professionals to fit and remove LARCs;
- The cost of providing the wide range of contraceptive options currently available to GMS (medical) card holders, which will also be available through this scheme, including contraceptive injections, implants, IUS and IUDs (coils), the contraceptive patch and ring, and various forms of oral contraceptive pill, including emergency contraception.
- The scheme will be open to all 17-25 year-olds ordinarily resident in Ireland.
Formal consultations with medical representative bodies with regard to service provision under the scheme have commenced and are ongoing. Following advice from the Attorney General's office regarding the legal framework for the scheme, consideration is being given to providing this by way of primary legislation.
The design of citizen engagement information and publicity campaigns to support and promote the roll out of the scheme will be finalised in the coming months, to be launched in the month preceding and during the initial phase of scheme roll-out.
The regulatory framework in Ireland does not currently permit dispensing the Pill without a prescription; amending this would require expert clinical input. It is not envisaged that this could be considered prior to the launch of the scheme, given the tight timelines involved.
Some access to free contraception is already enabled in some contexts. the National Condom Distribution Service (NCDS), which was established by the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme (SHCPP) in October 2015 and functions as a central point for distributing free condoms and lubricant sachets to HSE services and other organisations working with individuals and groups at increased risk of negative sexual health outcomes. The NCDS was expanded to 3rd level campuses in 2019 and will continue to operate in this context.
It should be noted that, while oral contraception and various forms of long-acting reversible contraception can be more effective at preventing pregnancy, condoms provide protection against STIs that is not provided by non-barrier forms of contraception. It is envisaged that continued expansion of the NCDS will be facilitated in line with demand, in order to support the STI prevention and sexual health promotion needs of people living in Ireland.