General Pharmaceutical Council guidance on religion, personal values & beliefs

The General Pharmaceutical Council – the independent regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises in Great Britain – has published In practice: Guidance on religion, personal values and beliefs. In summary, it notes that

“In some cases, a pharmacy professional’s religion, personal values or beliefs may influence their day-to-day practice, particularly whether they feel able to provide certain services. This might include, for example, services related to:

  • contraception (routine or emergency)
  • fertility medicines
  • hormonal therapies
  • mental health and wellbeing
  • substance misuse
  • sexual health.”

The Guidance also notes, however, that the Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from direct and indirect discrimination and from harassment in the workplace, the provision of services and other contexts, and is subject to defined exceptions. It also recognises that all protected characteristics, including religion or belief, have equal status and that, for the purposes of equality law, “religion” means any religion, including a lack of religion, and “belief” means any religious or philosophical belief and includes a lack of belief. According to the Guidance:

“Pharmacy professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs as long as they act in accordance with equalities and human rights law and make sure that person-centred care is not compromised.

Pharmacy professionals must not discriminate against a person based on their own – or the person’s – religion, personal values or beliefs, or lack of religion or belief. They should be sensitive to cultural, social, religious and clinical factors, and recognise that these can guide a person’s choices.

It is important that pharmacy professionals work in partnership with their employers and colleagues to consider how they can practise in line with their religion, personal values and beliefs without compromising care. This includes thinking in advance about the areas of their practice which may be affected and making the necessary arrangements, so they do not find themselves in the position where a person’s care could be compromised.

If a pharmacy professional is unwilling to provide a certain service, they should take steps to make sure the person asking for care is at the centre of their decision-making, so they can access the service they need in a timely manner and without hindrance. For example, this might include considering any time limits or other barriers to accessing medicines or other services, as well as any adverse impact on the person.

Pharmacy professionals should use their professional judgement when making decisions about what is clinically appropriate for the individual person, and discuss alternative options with the person, if necessary. Pharmacy professionals should keep in mind the difference between religion, personal values or beliefs, and a professional clinical judgement.” © General Pharmaceutical Council 2017.

The Guidance also makes it clear that referral to another pharmacist is still an option, but might not always be an adequate response – if, for example, a service is not accessible or available elsewhere or if, due to the person’s vulnerability, a referral would effectively obstruct timely access to the service.

What the Guidance does not do is to attempt to provide specific answers to specific issues that a pharmacist might encounter in day-to-day professional practice.

[With thanks to Paul de Mello Jr.] 



4 thoughts on “General Pharmaceutical Council guidance on religion, personal values & beliefs

  1. I raised the question of the previous – flawed – guidance when I made a presentation on Professional Ethics to the Conway Hall Ethical Society around two years ago. I also raised the matter with the BHA (now Humanists UK) and the National Secular Society, who also took the matter up with the GPC when they announced a consultation.

    As a result, the guidance has now been changed such that personal beliefs of anyone should not be allowed to override the professional judgment of a legally qualified GP or other medically qualified professional.
    In addition, the personal beliefs of anyone should not be allowed to override the personal medical needs of any patient.

    If pharmacists find that being required to act legally offends their personal beliefs then they should be prepared to seek a new occupation; one in which their personal beliefs can be accommodated without injury to the general public.

  2. A lot hinges on the meaning of words here. Professional judgement is, in itself a question of moral belief – usually involving concepts like integrity and honesty. I would be interested to understand what the key difference is between “religion, personal values or beliefs” and “professional judgement” which makes it possible for this to work in practice.

    Similarly, what is a “medical need”? The “morning after pill” does not meet a medical need, for example, it serves a lifestyle choice. A belief in itself one might say.

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