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.