Since it was first developed and released onto the market over fifty years ago, the contraceptive pill has become one of the most readily accessible medicines in the western world.

Even though it is available so widely, however, the pill cannot be bought over the counter at your local chemist or supermarket.

As explained elsewhere here on, the synthetic hormones in the combined pill and the mini pill are not suitable for everyone. A doctor will need to assess a patient’s medical history before a hormonal contraceptive can be issued.

So where can you get it from? And what checks will a doctor need to make prior to issue?

In the UK, you can get the pill from:

  • Your GP and local chemist
  • A sexual health (or GUM) clinic
  • Or a private online pharmacy

Getting the pill from your GP

One option which many women choose when getting the pill is their regular NHS doctor.

In such cases, you’ll be required to make an appointment, at which you’ll be asked questions about your overall health and medical profile. Because there are so many different types of pill available, a doctor may choose to issue a specific kind to suit a patient’s needs.

For instance, if a patient is prone to acne or heavy bleeding, the doctor may decide to dispense a pill which relieves these conditions in addition to providing contraceptive cover.

Once the GP has decided on the right pill, they will make out a prescription and give this to the patient. This is then taken to a pharmacy in person to be dispensed.

Getting the pill from a sexual health clinic

Sexual health or GUM clinics, in addition to offering STI testing, also offer contraceptives in various forms. This includes condoms (for men), caps or diaphragms (for women), and the pill (for women).

Again, they won’t just hand these out. In order to make sure the pill they are issuing is safe, patients will have to complete a consultation with a healthcare professional.

This option may be preferred by young adults who are new to contraception and less than comfortable about visiting their regular or family GP.

Staff at such clinics are required to practise complete confidentiality, and will not tell a patient’s parents that they are seeking contraceptive unless they believe there is a care or safety risk.

Buying the pill from an online pharmacy

The pill is also available to buy privately online.

This will again involve a doctor consultation, but does not have to be completed in person. When buying online, the patient will complete an online health assessment, which is then reviewed remotely by a GP.

Once the pill is deemed to be suitable, an electronic prescription will be generated and sent to the affiliated dispensing pharmacy on the patient’s behalf.

Following issue, most online pharmacies will then package the pill and send it to the patient’s home via special courier.

It’s no secret that the online pharmacy industry has been exploited in recent years by fraudsters, either selling counterfeit products or doling out prescription medicines without making the appropriate prior checks.

That’s why it is important, when purchasing pills online, to make sure you’re doing so from a registered source. You can find out more on this subject on our safe buying practices page.

Prescription Renewal

In the majority of cases, the pill is issued in a three or six month supply.

When this period is up, a doctor will review how the patient is responding to the pill, before prescribing a further batch. At this point, they may choose to try an alternative if mild side effects have been noted by the patient.

Where the pill has produced no noticeable side effects, a doctor will usually prescribe the same product for a further three or six months.

Again, periodic reviews and repeat prescriptions can be carried out online or in person. For those who prefer not to have to visit their doctor for a routine approval, or have to pick up their pill in person, buying online may be preferable.

Many pharmacies have a reminder feature built in to their service, whereby an email or text message is sent to the patient to remind them when their prescription is due for renewal. The review can be carried out remotely by a doctor, and once approved, the pill can be dispensed and delivered to the home of the patient.

Page last reviewed:  25/09/2020