Objective: To study the pattern of general practitioner prescribing of PC4, the most commonly used method of hormonal emergency contraception, in England and Wales.
Method: The UK General Practice Research Database was used to identify, from a total population of 4.2 million people on the lists of contributing practices, all women aged 10-44 years who were prescribed PC4. Rates of prescribing were calculated to produce rates over time by age group, by day of week and month of year, and by region.
Results: The rate for PC4 prescribing rose from about 1.5 per 1,000 women per month in 1992 to about 3.0 in 1995, then remained relatively constant until 1998. Rates were highest among 15-19-year-old women and next highest among those aged 20-24 years. Rates were higher in Wales than in each of the English regions. Excesses of prescribing took place in the summer months and between Saturdays and Mondays.
Conclusion: Reasons for the increase in PC4 prescribing rates in the early years of the study are unclear, although increasing knowledge of the technique among the population may have contributed. There was no evidence of an increase in prescribing following the pill scare of October 1995, although there was an increase some months earlier. The concentration of requests at weekends suggests the need for weekend access to emergency contraception. The summer peak may also indicate a heightened need in holiday areas at that time.