Retailer Chemist 4U, headquartered on East Gillibrands Industrial Estate, Lancs, says the only ‘reasonable’ price point for the most common form of the emergency contraceptive should be around £4.99.
That’s less than a SIXTH of the cost of some high street chemists, who charge more than £28 for the same product.
And it comes amid a mounting storm of criticism levelled against leading pharmacies, as campaign groups and MPs pressure chemists to drop the cost while customers threaten a boycott.
It’s also a move endorsed by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who have long sought to end what they label ‘the ultimate sexist surcharge’.
Shamir Patel, Director and Pharmacist with Chemist 4 U, is retailing a generic version of the popular emergency contraceptive brand ‘Levonelle’ – with the key ingredient being the manufactured hormone Levonorgestrel – and is reporting a tenfold increase in enquiries since the strategy was announced.
He says: ‘Emergency contraceptive pills are not expensive products in and of themselves, yet the mark-up applied by some pharmacists is fierce and wholly detrimental to the consumer who needs it.
‘I want to make healthcare affordable, rather than sticking with a £20 profit margin.
‘We use the main national pharmaceutical wholesalers to purchase the generic version of Levonelle – Levonorgestrel.
‘And it is our belief that a reasonable price point for online is £4.99 with £1.99 postage. In our view, it’s time others followed suit.’
Levonorgestrel is a synthetic version of the natural hormone progesterone. It works as an emergency contraceptive by preventing or delaying ovulation, and may also stop sperm from fertilising an egg or prevent the egg from implanting in the uterus.
It’s recommended the pill is taken immediately after sex if other forms of protection have failed and is effective for up to 72 hours.
And Chemist 4U say that, in keeping with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, they’re offering an ‘advance supply’, designed to be kept in a cupboard until needed.
Mr Patel adds: ‘We always advise women in an emergency situation, to go to their nearest pharmacy that day, rather than waiting a day to receive it from an online pharmacy.
‘However our belief is, an advanced supply from us avoids the panic in the unlikely event of barrier method failure. We advise all patients that EHC should not be used as a regular contraceptive method.’
On Friday last week a number of female Labour MPs wrote a letter in support of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) campaign calling for Boots to reconsider the cost of its morning after pill.
That came after Tesco had slashed the cost of its Levonelle to £13.50 while at Superdrug an own-brand pill is £13.49.
Jess Phillips, Labour MP and chair of the women’s parliamentary Labour party, wrote the letter which came signed by a number of prominent Labour MPs including Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves.
It read: ‘Boots is the largest high-street pharmacy in the UK, and 90% of the population lives within 10 minutes of one of their shops.
‘It is therefore completely unacceptable that British women have been paying up to £30 for a pill that costs a fraction of that to produce.
‘The high cost of emergency contraception at Boots is preventing women from accessing it when needed.’
At first Boots responded by saying it would not be changing the price, arguing that it did not want to be blamed for ‘incentivising inappropriate use’.
But following a public backlash and calls to boycott the store, Boots was forced into a climbdown as they made a commitment to source ‘less expensive’ options.
Clare Murphy, BPAS director of external affairs, said: ‘Most people believe women should be able to access emergency contraception from pharmacies at an affordable price.’
Meanwhile Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, which has joined forces with BPAS to call for a boycott, added: ‘Many women will need to buy these pills over the counter, and it is irresponsible and exploitative for retailers to charge over the odds for them.
‘Boots’ approach to this concern is indicative of a society that prioritises profit over women’s health and wellbeing.’