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GPhC to review right to refuse emergency contraception

People The GPhC chief Duncan Rudkin (pictured) has pledged to review pharmacists’ right to refuse to supply emergency contraception, after pharmacy academics called for regulators to end an ethical stalemate.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has pledged to review pharmacists' right to refuse to supply emergency contraception, after pharmacy academics at the University of Hertfordshire called for regulators to end an ethical stalemate.


The GPhC had already planned to consider whether conscientious objection was justified, particularly when it is not an option for nurses, as part of a review into ethical standards later this year, GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said in an exclusive interview with C+D on Friday (February 8).  


His comments came after researchers argued in a paper published online in the Journal of Medical Ethics on January 30 that conscientious objection was an "unfortunate stalemate", but this had not influenced the GPhC's plans, Mr Rudkin said.


"One of the things we need to look at across the board is to ensure that we and the other professional regulators are consistent where we should be" Duncan Rudkin, GPhC

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The GPhC will launch a patient consultation, set to begin at the start of 2014, in an attempt to gauge opinion on whether pharmacists should be allowed to refer patients to other providers if they have a moral or religious objection to dispensing emergency contraception themselves. It was a "huge piece of work" and there were strong views on both sides, Mr Rudkin warned.


"One of the things we need to look at across the board is to ensure that we and the other professional regulators are consistent where we should be and need to be challenging ourselves if there are any different standards and checking whether there's a good reason for that," Mr Rudkin said.


"It may be relevant to pharmacy practice, being very different to hospital nurses, but that's one of the things we'll need to look at – that will undoubtedly be a strand of that work [the ethical standards review]."


The authors of the academic paper argued that regulators in both the UK and Ireland should either compel pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception to all suitable patients who request it or ensure pharmacists who refuse to supply it also refuse to refer the patient to an alternative supplier and face the regulatory consequences.


"The alternative is to remain locked in the current cycles of mutual cognitive dissonance wherein the objectors convince themselves that referral does not constitute supply and the regulators do not place themselves in the position of having to deal with a vocal religious minority of whom they are terrified," they concluded.


But pharmacist Ravi Vaith, who dispenses an average of two EHC a month at Kamson's Pharmacy, Sussex, said community pharmacy should respect pharmacists' conscientious views because good pharmacists would signpost patients to a different pharmacy.


The GPhC said it received a small number of complaints annually about EHC but there had been no formal fitness-to-practise cases.


Do you think pharmacists should have the right to refuse to supply emergency contraception?

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