BHA welcomes pharmacists agreeing to put needs of service users first

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has today announced the outcome of its consultation on revising the pharmacists’ standards, in order to ensure that pharmacists’ religious beliefs cannot disrupt person-centred care. The GPhC has decided to go ahead with the changes. The British Humanist Association (BHA) met with the GPhC during the consultation process and responded to the consultation, and has today welcomed the news of the decision.

Up to now, the GPhC’s standards for pharmacy professionals have said:

People receive safe and effective care when pharmacy professionals: (…)

recognise their own values and beliefs but do not impose them on other people
tell relevant health professionals, employers or others if their own values or beliefs prevent them from providing care, and refer people to other providers…
But from May, the second of these two bullet points will now be changed to:

Take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs
As the BHA explained at the time of the consultation:

'What this means is that, at the moment, if a pharmacist is unable to fulfil a service user’s request, because of a conscientious objection, then they have to refer that person onto another pharmacist. But if there is no other pharmacist that the service user can reasonably be referred onto, then that means the service user has to face the significant disruption to their provision of a referral that goes against their best interests. This could happen, for example, where there is only one pharmacist in a particular area, because it is late at night, or a rural area. This covers services relating to contraception, fertility services, mental health and sexual health.

'However, by emphasising the need for care to be person-centred, the new standards make clear that, while pharmacists can continue to refer patients onto others, they can only do so where it does not cause such disruption. The new approach shifts the focus from the pharmacists to the actual service users and is an approach that is in accordance with other NHS services.'

The GPhC is still considering the wider guidance on religion and belief that will be produced to support the standards, and is expected to finalise it in June.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We’re very pleased by the decision to revise the standards, which is exactly what we called for in our response to the General Pharmaceutical Council’s consultation. We know there was a concerted campaign from some conservative Christian lobby groups to try and prevent these changes, but the Council has held strong and recognised the need to make the changes anyway, to ensure that the needs of service users are put first.

‘It is vital that everyone is able to access pharmacy services in times of need with a minimum of disruption. In the past it was possible that a pharmacist could cause severe disruption for service users because of their religious objections to providing a service. Now that will no longer be possible. We believe that with careful planning, pharmacists should be able to roll out these new standards without having a significant impact on existing staffing patterns.’


For further comment or information please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 7324 3072.

Read the GPhC’s statement:

Read the previous BHA news item on the subject:

Read the BHA’s response to the consultation:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.