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GPhC consultation on religious beliefs generates record number of responses

Emergency contraception

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The GPhC proposals mean that a pharmacist will no longer be able to refer a patient to another provider if they feel that offering certain treatment, such as emergency hormonal contraception, goes against their religious beliefs

Proposals that would prevent a pharmacist from referring a patient elsewhere on the grounds that their personal religious beliefs prevented them from providing the necessary care have triggered a record number of responses, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) says.

There were 3,000 written comments to the recommended change to pharmacy professional standards — the highest number ever received in a GPhC consultation — the pharmacy regulator confirmed.

The GPhC’s proposed change to the wording on personal values and beliefs in the new standards for pharmacy professionals was put out for consultation by the GPhC in December 2016. The consultation closed in March 2017.

The number of comments reflects the strength of feeling about the move to change the standard, which the GPhC admitted represents a “significant” shift in the professional relationship between a pharmacist and patient.

The intention behind the proposals is that a pharmacist’s professional priority should put patient-centred care ahead of any of their own personal religious or other beliefs.

This means that a pharmacist will not always have the option to refer a patient to another provider if he or she feels offering certain treatment, such as emergency hormonal contraception, routine contraception or fertility medicines, compromises their personal religious or other beliefs.

When the consultation launched, the GPhC said that the change was not an attempt to force a pharmacist to act against his or her own beliefs, but rather the move was to prompt them to “think ahead” so that they are never put in a compromising situation.

The responses to the proposed new professional standard are due to be discussed at the GPhC’s council meeting on 6 April 2017. The new standards are expected to be introduced in May 2017.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202568

Readers' comments (5)

  • If the result of this review denies the primacy of the patient, then I am glad to be retired from professional practice,

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  • Equally, if this review denies the pharmacist the right to have a conscience, then I too am glad to be retired. Furthermore, the profession stands to lose the service of pharmacists who hold conscientious objections to certain procedures.
    I take it that members of the GPhC will understand the meaning of "conscientious"?
    "Conscientious" - definition - governed by conscience; controlled by or done according to one's inner sense of what is right; principled.
    Just the kind of pharmacist we need, I should have thought.

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  • I agree absolutely with Ruth Shaw. The reason I didn't study medicine was that I knew that I wouldn't be cajoled or forced into doing what I considered, and still do consider, to be immoral, unethical and what should be illegal activities. My conscience would not allow me to kill babies or elderly or ill adults, and no ill-considered decision of the GPhC, in opposition to what the majority of its correspondents have expressed, will make me do otherwise. Equally I have absolutely NO objection to helping addicts to maintain a decent life, or help people who are unhappy in their original sex, or anything else like that. Why should I bend with the pressure of the anti-moral vocal minority?
    Andrew Paxton

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  • Denying healthcare professionals the right to object to a treatment or procedure that is subject to controversy or differing due to ethical or moral concerns is plain wrong.
    A totalitarian approach to healthcare whereby professionals are unwillingly forced to carry out actions they morally object to is nothing short of oppression and the denial of the most fundamental of human rights: " Freedom of thought, conscience and religion. "
    -  Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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  • I thank Ruth Shaw, Andrew Paxton and Karim Hadeq for their considered responses.
    I still cannot understand the GPhC's sudden clamour to change something that seems to have worked well for numerous years?

    Ian Grace

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