The proposals will mean women can access them without having to first see a doctor.
Current rules mean pharmacists cannot prescribe the contraceptive pill, fit an implant, or conduct a yearly contraceptive pill check-up, but this would change under the suggested measures currently being piloted. If approved, they could be introduced in England later this year.
A spokesperson for NHS England told The Independent the scheme was still being negotiated with the pharmacy sector and it was a “little premature” to discuss plans until they have been agreed.
It comes after reports women are facing lengthy delays to access long-acting contraceptives such as coils or the implant. Research shared exclusively with The Independent last year, revealed that almost one-third of women seeking them during the pandemic were unable to do so.
A remote sexual health testing service called Preventx, which polled 500 women who attempted to access long-acting contraceptives, discovered around three in 10 were not able to obtain them in the past year.
Of those women, seven per cent said their inability to get them led to them turning to abortion services, while 12 per cent said they were forced to take the morning-after pill.
Katherine O’Brien, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a leading UK abortion provider, told The Independent they welcomed the new proposals.
She added: "However, it is unclear how many pharmacies will choose to provide these services, and certainly some will be constrained by practicalities and lack of space. Will there be, for example, a room that offers the degree of privacy needed to perform very intimate procedures?
"In the meantime, there is a straightforward intervention that could dramatically improve women’s ability to access contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancy – for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to reclassify emergency contraception so that it can be sold directly off the shelf, as it is in many other European countries and in the US.
"This would enable pharmacists to focus their expertise on those requesting additional support and other contraceptive methods, like long-acting reversible contraceptive choices.”
Dr Janet Barter, president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said it “fully” backed the plans but warned pharmacists needed adequate funding to so so.
She added: “The fragmented sexual and reproductive healthcare system is notoriously difficult for women to navigate, and successive cuts to public health budgets have made it even harder for women to access the contraception they need.
“This move will make it easier for women to access essential contraception to avoid unplanned pregnancies and could also relieve unnecessary pressures on GPs. However, women must always have a choice of where they go for their care so that access to contraception is increased and not reduced further”.
Dr Barter argued that pharmacies can “play an enhanced role” in delivering sexual and reproductive healthcare services.
The pandemic profoundly disrupted sexual health clinics, with services forced to shut or run reduced clinics, while staff were transferred to work with Covid patients or forced to self-isolate.
This left women struggling to obtain the coil or implant due to them requiring face-to-face appointments which were largely suspended as consultations were carried out remotely via phone or video call.