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Pharmacists’ refusal to give emergency contraception ‘completely unacceptable’ says RPS

By Isabel Shaw

17 Sep 2021

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has condemned the decision of pharmacists who refused to supply emergency contraception, labelling the action as ‘completely unacceptable’.

Earlier this week, BBC Three reported the cases of three females under the age of 18 who had all been refused the morning-after pill at pharmacies. All three say they were refused by the pharmacists for no reason, with no alternative suggested and without being signposted elsewhere.

RPS president, Professor Claire Anderson, said: ‘It’s vital women needing emergency contraception are not put off approaching their local pharmacy.

‘Pharmacists provide emergency contraception across the UK on a daily basis and the overwhelming majority of women will receive a swift and non-judgmental service, as is their right.’

It is currently legal for pharmacists to refuse to provide the morning-after pill on religious grounds.

However, according to guidance published by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) in 2017, pharmacists who do refuse to give out the pill must organise a referral to another health professional. ‘This can include handover to another pharmacist at the same, or another, pharmacy or service provider,’ the guidance explained.

Prof Anderson said: ‘Pharmacists who have a conscientious objection which impacts on the services they can provide to patients should inform their employer prior to accepting the position and establish which local pharmacies will supply emergency contraception in the event that a request is made.

‘They should then ensure that patients are referred to other providers for that service. Protecting the rights of individuals to adhere to their moral or religious beliefs is important, but satisfying the needs of patients must be the priority of both employers and employees.

She added: ‘A pharmacist should never knowingly put themselves in a situation where they will not be able to meet the needs of patients and should deal with all requests in a compassionate and professional manner’.

In 2019, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) called for emergency contraception to be made more accessible in England.

In the ‘Better for women’ report, RCOG called for the pill to be made available ‘off the shelf’ and without a consultation with a pharmacist.

Currently, emergency contraception is available without a prescription and free of charge from all pharmacies in Scotland and Wales.

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