By Celia Hall, Medical Editor
The Telegraph (UK) 
Published: 7th February 2007

The pill and hormone replacement therapy could be made available over the counter following a debate today set up by the organisation that regulates drugs and treatments.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is conducting a seminar in London as part of a campaign to improve women's health.

Any recommendation would still need pharmaceutical companies to ask for a change in their licences
Since 2002 it has been easier to change the designation of drugs from prescription-only medicines to those that can be sold under the supervision of a pharmacist. The emergency contraceptive Pill can already by bought from the chemist.

The seminar will consider recommending that the Pill and HRT are more easily available, along with tests for sexually transmitted diseases and drugs used to treat heavy periods.

But a spokesman for the MHRA said yesterday that it would be "up to the pharmaceutical companies to ask for a change in their licences".

"We can't do anything without the industry," she said.

Dr June Raine, a director at the MHRA, said: "We are committed to making medicines more widely available where it is safe to do so.

"Switches of medicines from prescription-only status will make medicines more accessible from pharmacists without a doctor's prescription. People will be able to get the treatment they need more quickly and easily.

"Our first consideration must always be patient safety and before a medicine can be made more widely available it is assessed against strict -criteria relating to its safety profile, taking into account the circumstances in which it will be used."

The move is in line with Government policy to give patients more choice in how they access health care and in giving pharmacists a bigger role.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, midwives and other interested groups will take part in the seminar.

Doctors have some reservations since only GPs know what other drugs patients may be taking or if they have -conditions that would make the use of hormone drugs unsafe.

A spokesman for the Royal College of General Practitioners said it was important that records were shared between pharmacists and GPs. "Patients can't be on drugs that their doctors don't know about," said Dr Nigel Sparrow, vice-chairman of the college.

Sadia Khan, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, said: "Pharmacists are experts in medicines and can offer professional advice to ensure that over-the-counter medicines selected are appropriate for the individual.

"People want choice, convenience and help to care for themselves. Increasing the range of products re-classified means better use of pharmacists' skills and knowledge as well as faster and more convenient access to effective self-care options for those who may need it."