BHA welcomes move to ensure pharmacists put service users first

2 March, 2017

Take action! You too can respond to the General Pharmaceutical Council positively, to agree with them and us that the needs of service users must be put first. You can respond on their website, and view our response to help you draft it. It only takes a few minutes to respond and the consultation closes on 7 March.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today responded positively to a consultation by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), proposing to change the pharmacists’ standards to put the needs of service users at the centre of care, instead of having pharmacists be able to refuse access to a service based upon their personal beliefs even when this is to the detriment of such care.

Currently, GPhC’s standards for pharmacy professionals say:

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 now, the GPhC are proposing to change the second of these two bullet points to:

  • Take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs

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.

BHA Director of Public Affairs Richy Thompson commented, ‘These changes are very welcome and bring the pharmacists’ standards much more closely in line to equality and non-discrimination approaches that are common nowadays in most workplace settings. With sufficient planning, employers should generally be able to ensure that the changes are brought in without significant disruption to existing employees. If disruption is caused, then this will highlight that the pharmacy in question are currently failing to provide adequate care to service users.

‘In sum, the changes will ensure that service users can be confident that they will be able to access the facilities they need from their local pharmacy without disruption due to employees’ religion or belief, whilst guaranteeing that employers and employees can be much clearer as to what is expected of them and where they stand.’


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

Read the consultation:

Read the BHA’s response:

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.