Regulator Keeps Conscience Clause for Religious Pharmacists

LONDON – The General Pharmaceutical Council has decided to uphold the right of pharmacists in the United Kingdom to refuse to dispense treatments that conflict with their religious beliefs.

The new council said it would retain an existing code of ethics when it replaces the Royal Pharmaceutical Society as the regulator of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians later this year.

The code of ethics contains a conscience clause that allows pharmacies to opt out of providing items such as the morning-after pill if doing so goes against their religious beliefs.

The council said, however, that consultation on the issue would continue and that in the future pharmacies may have to tell patients about other providers.

Pharmacies may also be compelled to display notices telling patients of the services they are unable to provide because of their religious convictions.

Council Chair Bob Nicholls told Chemist and Druggist magazine: "The steer for the council is to include the clause with guidance and draw attention to that guidance."

According to the magazine, the conscience clause was backed by more than two thirds of respondents to a consultation on council standards published this week.

The move follows the controversy surrounding a female pharmacist at Lloyds pharmacy in Sheffield who refused to serve a woman with the contraceptive pill. Lloyds said it had launched an investigation into the incident.