London: Girls as young as 13 are to be given the contraceptive Pill without seeing a doctor.
For the first time, teenagers below the legal age of consent will be able to get the Pill from high street pharmacies in a project that could eventually be adopted nationwide.
The scheme is being introduced to try to give young girls greater access to contraception in an attempt to reduce soaring underage pregnancy rates.
But critics point out that such a move could actually encourage girls to become more promiscuous, effectively giving them a ‘licence' to have more sex.
There is no evidence that providing the Pill on demand reduces teenage pregnancies and there are concerns that it also increases the risk of sexually transmitted infections by making youngsters less inclined to use condoms.
The Pill also has rare, but potentially dangerous, side effects including blood clots and there are fears pharmacists may not carry out the same health checks as doctors.
The trial scheme will see high street chains including Boots, Lloyds and smaller independent chemists on the Isle of Wight will begin providing the Pill to girls aged 13 to 25 without a prescription.
Those who visit the chemist for the morning-after pill the emergency contraceptive will also be offered a month's supply of the progesterone-only Pill.
Currently, women must visit their GP for a thorough consultation before they get the contraceptive. But under the scheme which will begin in November, ten pharmacies will provide the Pill without the need for a doctor's prescription.
Side-effects: Cancer risk
A contraceptive taken by tens of thousands of British women may triple the risk of breast cancer, experts have warned.
Scientists found that the risk of tumours was up to three times as high in women taking a variety of the Pill known as ‘triphasic' contraceptives.
The study of 100,000 women by a team at Harvard University found those on all kinds of the Pill had a slightly higher risk of breast cancer, as many other surveys have concluded. But researcher Dr David Hunter said the increased risk from triphasic contraceptives was ‘striking'. Manufacturer BayerSchering Pharma was unable to comment.