The Authority's response to the General Pharmaceutical Council's consultation on religion, personal values and beliefs.
We welcome the opportunity to respond to the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) consultation about religion, personal values and beliefs.
The Professional Standards Authority performs the statutory function of “[promoting] the interests of users of health care” in relation to the performance of the regulators it oversees. In the exercise of this function, we have an overarching objective to “protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of the public”. When assessing the proposed changes to guidance on professionals’ beliefs, our comments stems from this perspective.
We recognise that in revising its guidance (from the previous consultation), the GPhC is attempting to strengthen its position to favour the rights of the patient – and we fully support this shift. However, in our view, the re-drafted example and accompanying guidance are still too focused on the rights of the professional.
The consultation document attempts to reconcile the opposing demands of professionals who do not wish to dispense medicines with those of patients who require the product. The primary duty of healthcare professionals is to meet the health and care needs of patients, to the best of their ability. The consultation document implies that professionals will be given a licence by their regulator not always to act in the best interests of the patient as there may be certain scenarios when the professional’s own beliefs come first. We disagree with this alignment of priorities and note that depending on treatment, some patients will be put first before a professional’s beliefs, whilst other patients will be placed second.
We believe that there are insufficient legal reasons for pharmacy professionals – part of the NHS workforce - to withhold providing legal, NHS-approved treatments to patients, unless their right to do so is set out in legislation. Patients and the wider public can expect to receive treatment without delay or hindrance. This is enshrined in the NHS constitution where it is stated that: ‘The NHS provides a comprehensive service, available to all irrespective of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity or marital or civil partnership status’.3 Relatedly, the 1998 Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based ‘on any ground such as sex, race, colour…’.
In addition, it is our view that the GPhC’s position could be made clearer in the guidance as the current draft has the potential to create ambiguity for registrants, patients and employers.