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LONDON (Reuters) - Women could be able to get the contraceptive pill from their chemist without a prescription, a health minister said on Thursday.
Lord Darzi, a leading surgeon brought into Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government, said the programme could be piloted among pharmacists or nurses.
The pill is currently available only with a prescription from a doctor, although most pharmacies are able to provide the "morning-after pill" without a doctor's authorisation.
Darzi suggested women could be given the oral contraceptive after a full assessment by a trained health professional.
He said it was wrong to suggest the contraceptive pill was being made available over the counter.
"What we might pilot is a process by which pharmacists or nurses carry out a full assessment process before supplying the pill under arrangements equivalent to prescribing," he said.
"At this stage there is no commitment to roll this out and we will need a full evaluation before we do."
The Department of Health said pharmacies could play an increased role in the provision of contraception and other sexual health services, because of their accessibility and convenient opening hours.
But it added: "We will work with the pharmacy profession to ensure robust standard setting and appropriate training to ensure pharmacists are competent to safely provide this service."
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) warned about the potential health risks.
The Pill can cause blood clotting and thrombosis and may contain the long-term risk of cervical cancer.
"The government's policy, like its policy on the morning-after pill, puts women's health at risk, particularly the health of young women," SPUC said.
"At the very least, a woman is entitled to the guidance of her general practitioner who has access to her medical history and the possible contra-indications of her taking the contraceptive pill.
"Pressure on vulnerable young girls, from parents, boyfriends, social workers and others will undoubtedly lead to serious health risks being overlooked in specific cases."
Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Tim Castle