Some 150,000 women aged between 17 and 26 have accessed birth-control pills and other contraceptives this year under the free scheme introduced by the Government last year, new figures show.

Demand has been highest among those aged between 18 and 21 for products and services under the scheme, which also covers the morning-after pill, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and contraceptive injections.

The scheme was launched in September 2022 for women aged 17 to 25, and it was expanded to include those aged 26 in January. It has since been amended to include women aged 27 to 30, and the limit will rise to 31 at the beginning of next year.

Commenting on the figures, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the scheme had eliminated cost as an issue for women accessing contraception.

“We know that the most appropriate contraception isn’t always the cheapest, and this scheme ensures that women can choose the method of contraception that is most suited to their needs and circumstances, in consultation with their GP or other medical professional,” he said.

READ MORE: Gardaí called as sulky races cause chaos on Dublin motorway

“I’m delighted to see such high uptake among eligible age groups, and I’m very pleased that we will soon be expanding the scheme further to include women aged 31.”

The minister said the scheme had been successful in helping to reduce crisis pregnancy and the rate of pregnancy terminations.

Around 2,400 GPs and 2,050 pharmacies have signed up to provide products and services under the scheme, which covers the cost of consultations, prescriptions, fittings, checks and removals.

A free home STI testing scheme was also introduced late last year, which was hailed by the Department of Health as “very successful”, leading to an increase in its budget allocation of €720,000 for next year.

“We introduced the free contraception scheme in response to a clear demand from women for a service that prioritises quality healthcare while eliminating cost as an issue,” said Mr Donnelly.

“These figures provide clear evidence of the success of a service that is helping to reduce crisis pregnancy and termination of pregnancy rates, as part of a suite of sexual health services which are responding to expanding population needs.”

Join the Irish Mirror’s breaking news service on WhatsApp. Click this link to receive breaking news and the latest headlines direct to your phone. We also treat our community members to special offers, promotions, and adverts from us and our partners. If you don’t like our community, you can check out any time you like. If you’re curious, you can read our Privacy Notice.