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Politics – Pharmacists and conscience

April 2017
Pharmacists could be forced to act against their conscience under plans from the profession’s regulator, depending on the outcome of a consultation which was to finish in March. The General Pharmaceutical Council issued the consultation, which proposed amending its professional standards and supporting guidance — the code of conduct for pharmacy professionals.
As drafted, the new documents heavily dilute existing conscience protection. This risks Christian pharmacists being forced to provide access to drugs that act to destroy human embryos, such as the morning-after pill. The guidelines have hitherto recognised the existence of conscientious objections by explicitly providing for referral to another provider.
However, the proposed new standards instead suggest pharmacists must ‘take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs’. The new guidance says that, ‘in some cases, a referral may not be the right option, or enough, to ensure person-centred care is not compromised’. The consultation document admits the changes will ‘shift the balance’ and are ‘a significant change from the present position’.
The Christian Institute has highlighted concerns raised by the Christian Medical Fellowship, which pointed out that a right to refer will effectively be replaced with a duty to dispense. Many pharmacists work alone and, because there will be no-one else available, the new proposals would put them in an impossible position. Further, according to the Christian Institute, no evidence has been provided to suggest the current arrangement has compromised person-centred care.

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