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A Visitor’s Guide to Getting Birth Control in the UK

[Note added 9/12/12: This post gets a lot of traffic because there isn’t a lot of information out there about this subject. Please note that this post was written in 2009. Information may have changed, so please check the links provided or ask at a local GP practice.]

It’s bound to happen to you – you’re traveling and didn’t calculate how much birth control you needed to bring with you, or you decide to extend your stay past the amount you’ve brought with you. The idea of making an overseas phone call to your doctor to get a prescription filled, then calling and begging a friend or relative to pick it up, pay for it, and ship it over to you just doesn’t sit well with you, either. So, what can you do, other than going off your birth control for a few weeks or months?

The UK-Yankee website and board is a fabulous place to start for information about anything regarding visiting/living in the UK as an American. Several of the ladies on the message board advised in the past that visitors have access to free birth control through the NHS. This some-what contradicts the big stamp in my passport that says “no recourse to public funds”, so I was a little skeptical.

I first researched family planning clinics in the area near Tim’s house. I found one in Grimsby that also had a website and e-mail address, and I contacted them with my questions. The woman who wrote back told me I would need to pay for the visit but the pills would be free, and gave me the number of a clinic closer to here. I didn’t call them.

Then, I did some more research online, and found the Marie Stopes organization. Marie Stopes provides birth control to low-income women throughout the world, and their main office is in London. I sent off an email inquiring if they had a location closer to here, and what the costs would be as a foreign visitor. Marie Stopes calculates their fees on a sliding scale (similar to Planned Parenthood), but did not tell me what fees would be charged to a foreign visitor. Unfortunately, their closest clinic to me was in Leeds, which isn’t all that close!

Several ladies on UKY mentioned Dr. Thom Dr Thom offers online birth control pill ordering – no exam or need to see a doctor. Dr. Thom charges £29.99 for a three-month supply. The only catch is that you have to already be on birth control and you must be on one of the pills Dr. Thom provides. Unfortunately, my brand of pill was not on the list. The only “American” brands I noticed were Yaz and Ortho-Tri-Cyclen. I emailed Dr. Thom and asked about ordering a similar pill, but was told they could not provide a pill I wasn’t already prescribed. Dr. Thom also requires the person placing the order to have a credit card in their name and a UK address associated with the card, so you would also need to add your UK address to your credit card before using their services.

It was beginning to become clear to me that I would need to try to see a doctor here, and I was a bit worried about the cost. There’s a family clinic (not family planning, just family clinic) in the next village over, so when Tim and I happened to be in that area, I stopped in with my old prescription.

I was told that if the dispensary supplied my brand, they would just give it to me, but since I was on a brand they were unfamiliar with, I needed to make an appointment to have a doctor give the prescription. I was told that as a visitor, I might need to pay £12 for the office visit, but they were not sure and would let me know when I had my appointment if that was alright with me. Well, £12 certainly didn’t seem like too much money to me, so I said that was fine.

My appointment took all of 10 minutes. The doctor weighed me, took my blood pressure, and asked me medical history questions. Then she looked up the chemical make-up of my pill and prescribed me a similar pill. I was expecting a month’s supply, but she prescribed me with a 3 month supply, and I was told to get it filled next door at the co-op. They did not mention paying a fee for the visit to me, but I assumed I would have to pay for my pills. I went next door, and to my surprise I was handed a 3-month pack of pills after a very short wait. I asked if I needed to pay for them, and was told no, they were covered under the NHS.

So, my advice to any of you ladies traveling to the UK who find yourself needing birth control (or the morning after pill, apparently), find a local family clinic or a family planning clinic…but don’t wait until the last minute. I started looking into things with 2 weeks left in my current pill pack, and by the time I saw the doctor and got a new prescription, I was less than a week away from running out!

For more information about what visitors are entitled to, please see: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Healthcare/Entitlementsandcharges/OverseasVisitors/Browsable/DH_074379

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