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City chemists hand out free morning-after pill.

Byline: Sarah Probert

The morning-after pill is to be handed out for free by Birmingham chemists in a bid to tackle the increasing number of teenage pregnancies in the city.

The initiative, launched yesterday, involves 64 pharmacies which can now provide the emergency contraception without charge to young women under the age of 21.

Previously the morning-after pill was only available for free at the NHS Walk-in Centre -- based in the Boots city centre store inHigh Street -- GPs' surgeries or clinics, with pharmacies only able to sell it over the counter to women over the age of 16 .

The service is part of a campaign to reduce teenage pregnancies at a particularly busy time of year where demand for the pill is high.

Birmingham has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in England, with 1,121 reported cases in 1999.

Gareth Spurgin , chairman of the Local Pharmaceutical Committee, said: ``This will help widen access to a service that is much needed in Birmingham and pharmacies involved are here to help, not condemn or condone anyone for their actions.''

Birmingham Health Authority is working closely with primary care groups and the LPC to address the issue locally and offered training to the 64 pharmacies before they were allowed to offer the free service.

It is hoped the campaign will also relieve pressure on GPs and out-of-hours services such as the Walk-In Centre, although patients can still receive emergency contraception from existing health services.

Sarah Farmer, teenage pregnancy co-ordinator for Birmingham Health Authority, said the launch of the service was timely as they faced a particularly busy time of the year.

She said: ``We welcome thisinitiative by pharmacists as part of our broader strategy to address teenage pregnancy. It is particularly timely as the party season approaches.''

Studies have linked the consumption of alcohol with unprotected sex, with one recent survey of 16-24 year olds showing that, after drinking, one in five had sex they had later regretted, one in seven had unsafe sex and one in ten had been unable to remember whether they had sex the night before.

An emergency contraceptive helpline was launched in Birmingham last Christmas to combat the seasonal rise in women seeking the morning-after pill.

The temporary hotline, the firstof its kind in Britain, ran for three months and received hundreds of calls from young women.

But the new free service offered by Birmingham pharmacies has been condemned by pro-life supporters who accused the health authority of encouraging promiscuity and the spread of diseases. Jack Scarisbrisk , national chairman of the Warwickshirebased pro-life group LIFE, said: ``It is disgraceful. It can only encourage promiscuity and it will certainly encourage the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

``There are many new diseases we have never heard of before. This is utterly irresponsible, we are simply encouraging the very problem we are trying to solve.''
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 18, 2001
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