Reducing ‘intimidation, humiliation’ in the pharmacy

contraception women's health contraceptive birth control pill

The ACT government will be exploring options for “clearly visible” signage that informs pharmacy customers of conscientious objection to reproductive health products

ACT pharmacies that have a conscientious objector on staff may soon be required to display a visible sign that outlines the products they won’t supply, under a motion that was moved by ALP representative Bec Cody in the territory’s Legislative Assembly.

The motion called on the ACT Government to explore options for the introduction of a requirement for pharmacies who choose not to supply relevant reproductive health products to display “clearly visible” signage that outlines which products they do or don’t supply in plain language.

It was agreed to and passed, with amendments.

The amended motion called on the ACT Government to “work with dispensers and their relevant representative organisations to ensure that their professional standards are met in the supply of reproductive health products by allowing people, particularly women, to access these products and services without fear of intimidation, humiliation or embarrassment”.

It also called for consultation with pharmacists and their peak bodies to explore options for the development of an online resource, to assist the Canberra community to access reproductive health medicines and products.

Ms Cody told AJP her goal is to “look at ways that we can better assist our members of the community to not feel embarrassed or humiliated when they’re asking for certain products.

“The main objective for me is that people of all genders deserve the right to respectful advice from pharmacists,” said Ms Cody.

“There are some pharmacists who may not necessarily agree with the use of condoms, or the pill, or the morning-after pill.

“I’m not saying that pharmacists are necessarily doing things that are meant to be upsetting or humiliating for people, it’s just that there are times where … there may be a need for a woman to go in after the morning-after pill for example, and the pharmacist may tell the woman ‘oh you know, it’s very bad for you to have unprotected sex, and maybe you should have thought about using a condom’.

“The pharmacist is trying to do the right thing there, but the woman might just feel that as an attack on herself.

“This isn’t meant to be about what is morally right and what is morally wrong, this is really just an opportunity so that both pharmacists and consumers don’t have to have embarrassing conversations at all.

“And also so that the pharmacist doesn’t have to have a conversation that they may not ethically want to have.”

Simon Blacker, ACT Branch President and National Councillor for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, said that while he understands the intent of the motion, he fears it may cause confusion with patients.

“From the point of view of a patient, some of these matters can be sensitive. We certainly want the patient to have the best health outcome in a setting and manner that’s empathetic and convenient,” Mr Blacker told AJP.

However he adds that suggesting regulation around signage could be too “black and white”.

“If you’ve got signage on a pharmacy business but you have a varied roster with varied professionals, how do you cater to that? I understand the intent to make it easier for the patient with a sensitive matter, but I think it actually complicates things.

“So the impact to community pharmacy could be to cause more confusion and in some cases, some more patient angst because there is confusion and that’s the last thing we want,” said Mr Blacker.

“I don’t think the beliefs of community pharmacists are generally going to get in the way of assisting patients with their health, and thus to have regulation around signage seems unnecessary.

“Community pharmacists in general and in the ACT are very keen to help patients where they can with any health concern.”

The motion noted that while some pharmacies may refuse to supply a product based on a religious or ethical view of a particular pharmacist – leading to apprehension for women seeking such products – “most dispensers display practices that model their professional standards”.

It also recognised that there are a number of strict legislative requirements in relation to the advertising of medications.

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  1. chung Liauw

    Isn’t this a case where if one ignores the problem, someone else will impose a solution

  2. Greg Kyle

    Well the profession won’t take a stand on this, so someone has to. Unfortunately the law was watered down to “work with”. In answer to Simon Blacker’s concern, it’s simple – it is done at a pharmacy level, so the owner(s) is/are responsible for the standard in the pharmacy. A pharmacy either does deliver this service all the time, or none of the time and the signage clearly specifies this. If a pharmacist doesn’t agree with that stand, they find somewhere else to work – just like any other workplace!

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      Greg, as a professor who teaches pharmacy practice, you of all people should understand that a pharmacy owner cannot mandate the practice of their employees.

      More importantly, an employer cannot end the employment of a pharmacist who has a conscientious objection to anything, regardless of their personal views on the matter.

  3. Gavin Mingay

    Who really conscientiously objects these days, especially in the ACT where it is a far-left society?

    • Sheshtyn Paola

      Hi Gavin,
      Ms Cody said she herself had been “lectured” by a pharmacist when trying to purchase reproductive medicine, and that her experience had been echoed by other women over the years.

  4. Tim Griffiths

    There are pharmacists who conscientiously object and do let their patient’s know about it, but this happens in other circumstances as well eg: providing opioid replacement treatments or needle and syringe services. There are equally patients whose idea of being ‘lectured’ is merely the pharmacist doing what is legally required which in this case should involve asking some questions that some might find too personal. That’s a possible catch-22 for the pharmacist but it can and should be done with senstitivity.

    I worked with a deeply religious pharmacist once who did conscientiously object to emergency contraception but, to their credit, they didn’t even have a dialogue with the patient about it and just referred them to another pharmacist who didn’t object.

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