Religious guidance may put UK pharmacists at risk of punishment, says C + D author… but what about Aussie pharmacists?

According to the UK publication Chemist + Druggist, in 2013 the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) banned a pharmacist from providing emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) for three years because he had given a patient “a distressing explanation of why his religion regarded EHC as morally wrong”.

Now the Council is bringing in new standards – due to come into effect on May 1 – proposing that pharmacy professionals should not be able to refuse services based on their religion, personal values or beliefs.

The GPhC also suggests that referral to another pharmacist should not be an option, reports C + D.

Its consultation paper on religion, personal values and beliefs for pharmacists (released December 2016) says the following:

People receive safe and effective care when pharmacy professionals: (….)

• recognise their own values and beliefs but do not impose them on other people

• take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs.

“While we recognise the importance of a pharmacy professional’s religion, personal values and beliefs, we want to ensure people can access the advice, care and services they need from a pharmacy professional in whatever setting, and when they need them,” it continues.

“In some circumstances, these new GPhC rules could be disproportionately onerous to pharmacy staff. They may unfairly expose them to the risk of fitness-to-practise proceedings,” writes author David Reissner from UK law firm Charles Russell Speechlys in Chemist+Druggist.

UK pharmacists have taken umbrage at the new rules, which also state that they “need to be met [by pharmacists] at all times, not only during working hours”.

Reports reveal that the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) is taking the Council to Court next week over the new standards.

Could something similar happen here? Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Research and Policy Officer Anna Ezzy, who worked on the PSA’s latest Code of Ethics, says conscientious objection is covered in the current code for Australian pharmacists.

Ms Ezzy says the right for pharmacists to refuse services is covered in the integrity principles embedded within the Code of Ethics.

These are outlined as follows:

Integrity Principle 1:

A pharmacist acts with honesty and integrity to maintain public trust and confidence in the profession.

And specifically, a pharmacist (g) declares any actual, perceived or potential conflicts of interest in a clear, easy to understand, open and timely manner.

Integrity Principle 2:

A pharmacist only practises under conditions which uphold the professional independence, judgement and integrity of themselves and others.

And specifically, a pharmacist (a) exercises professional autonomy, objectivity and independence, and manages actual, perceived or potential situations of conflict of interest.

“The code recognises the right of pharmacists to refuse supply based on personal beliefs,” says Ms Ezzy.

“However, they need to facilitate adequate alternative care.”

It also makes a difference where the refusal occurs, she says.

For example, in a metropolitan area, the pharmacist may refuse supply but point the patient to a pharmacy across the road. But there can be more difficulties in rural areas.

Have you ever felt the need to refuse supply for personal reasons?