Humanists UK welcomes new ‘person-centred’ guidance on conscientious objection in pharmacies

30 June, 2017

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GphC), which regulates pharmacies across Britain, has published new guidance on religion, personal values, and beliefs in pharmaceutical practice. The guidance focuses for the first time on ensuring that pharmacists’ religious beliefs do not hinder or prevent a person from receiving care. Humanists UK, which met with the GPhC and responded to its consultation on the new guidance, has welcomed the publication and the shift in focus it represents.

The guidance recognises that although ‘pharmacy professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs,’ this should not compromise a person-centered approach to care, which emphasises service user needs as a primary consideration for pharmacists. This is particularly relevant in the handling of requests for contraceptive, fertility, hormonal, and sexual health treatments.

The new guidance now advises pharmacists to:

  • ‘recognise their own values and beliefs but do not impose them on other people’
  • ‘take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs.’

This recommendation not only reinforces the principle that a person-centred approach should not be compromised by conscientious objections, but clears up uncertainties about how this should applied in practice. Previously, pharmacists were advised to refer the person seeking care to another provider, if they felt unable to provide care themselves due to their personal beliefs. However, in certain circumstances – such as in rural locations or late at night – finding another willing provider to refer the service user to is not possible. This new guidance recommends that best practice for pharmacists is to consider the location of the pharmacy, the opening times of other providers and the rotation of staff to ensure that referrals either to other staff or different pharmacies are appropriate and can be arranged in a timely manner. Ultimately, the guidance recommends that ‘pharmacy professionals should not knowingly put themselves in a position where they are unwilling to deliver or arrange timely care for a person.’

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are pleased that the General Pharmaceutical Council has acted upon concerns we raised during the consultation period and have put person-centred care at the heart of their new approach. The new guidance outlines practical and reasonable steps to ensure that no person seeking care should be denied assistance locally or in a timely manner because of conscientious objections. We are pleased that this guidance has clarified that it is the responsibility of the pharmacist and their employer, and not service users, to ensure that this does not happen.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 3675 0959.

Read more about our campaign work on conscientious objection:

Read our response to the General Pharmaceutical Council Consultation on religion, personal values and beliefs:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: