Lambeth and Southwark primary care trusts have launched a controversial new pilot scheme that will see girls aged over 16 given over-the-counter access to the contraceptive pill, as a means to reduce teenage pregnancy and use of the ‘morning-after’ pill.

These two areas of London have more teenage pregnancies that anywhere else in the country, and the aim of the scheme is to increase access to the pill particularly for those girls who regularly use emergency contraception, for which there are over 8,000 consultations a year.

“We expect the pilot to help young women who have not previously used contraception to access it easily and safely,” said Jo Holmes, Head of Primary Care Delivery and Development at NHS Southwark. “In turn, we hope to see a reduction in use of emergency contraception (morning after pill) and an increase in referrals to other services offering longer term contraception”.

To allay concerns over safety the trusts stressed that community pharmacists taking part in the pilot will undergo a three-month accredited training programme with Kings College London, and will work to strict guidelines developed by doctors. They will also be able to provide information and referrals for long-acting reversible contraception such as interuterine devices and implants, much like a normal sexual health clinic.

However, there is also strong opposition to the move, particularly on fears that the scheme may encourage under-age sexual activity, and that there is no evidence to show that the scheme will be effective. GP Mark Haughton, member of the Christian Medical Fellowship, told the BBC: “I'm not aware of any evidence this is going to be effective. It may be pouring petrol on the flames”.