Pharmacists have a responsibility to ensure all women have access to emergency contraception, in spite of personal beliefs, the president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) has said.
Last week, BBC Three reported the cases of three females under the age of 18 who said they had each been refused the morning-after pill at community pharmacies. All three claimed they were refused EHC by the pharmacists for no reason, with no alternative suggested and without being signposted elsewhere.
Speaking to The Pharmacist, Dr Asha Kasliwal, president of the FSRH, said she appreciated that within a diverse body of pharmacists there may be ‘conflicts of interest’ for some between their personal beliefs and dispensing emergency contraception.
Under employment law, pharmacy professionals have the right to refuse to prescribe EHC for religious or personal reasons, but if they do, they are obliged to signpost the patient to a pharmacist who will supply it.
‘However, if a pharmacist chooses not to provide emergency contraception because of their personal beliefs, we believe that she/he has a personal responsibility to ensure that arrangements are made for a prescription to be issued by a colleague without delay, ensuring that the care and outcomes of the patient are never compromised or delayed,’ Dr Kasliwal argued.
Guidance published by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) in 2017 says that pharmacists who do refuse to give out EHC must organise a referral to another health professional ‘if approproate’.
‘This can include handover to another pharmacist at the same, or another, pharmacy or service provider,’ the guidance outlines.
Dr Kasliwal also said: ‘Emergency contraception is an essential part of sexual and reproductive healthcare and individuals, including under-18s, must have full access to free emergency contraception at the time and place of need.
‘FSRH supports the provision of free, easily accessible emergency contraception without harassment or stigma across the UK. Provision should include signposting and referral for emergency intrauterine (IUD) contraception and to other ongoing methods of contraception,’ she added.
The FSRH has previously called for pharmacies to have a larger role in the provision of hormonal contraceptives, and for the contraceptive pill to be made available over the counter.
In July, the UK medicine regulator approved two progestogen-only pills for sale without a prescription from pharmacies.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reclassified Hana and Lovima tablets – both desogestrel (DSG) 75 microgram progestogen-only pills – so they can be provided over the counter, following a Government consultation earlier this year