Christian pharmacists will remain free to do their jobs in line with their consciences after regulators published new guidance recognising the “positive” role of religion.
Earlier draft guidance by the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) could have forced Christians to provide access to abortifacient or hormone-blocking drugs.
The guidance now states: “Pharmacy professionals have the right to practise in line with their religion, personal values or beliefs”. The changes were made after The Christian Institute threatened the GPhC with legal action and hundreds of Christian professionals raised objections.
When the plans were first proposed, they were described as “unethical, unnecessary and quite possibly illegal”.
Dr Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship pointed out that they could have prevented Christians from “pursuing a career in pharmacy altogether”.
In its response to a public consultation on the proposed guidelines, The Christian Institute said that freedom of conscience is protected by law, and therefore the GPhC has a responsibility to reasonably accommodate different beliefs.
In a statement accompanying the latest announcement the Chief Executive of the GPhC, Duncan Rudkin, highlighted the positive contribution pharmacists’ faith can make in their position of care.
He said: “We recognise and respect that a pharmacy professional’s religion, personal values and beliefs are often central to their lives and can make a positive contribution to their providing safe and effective care to a diverse population.”
A spokesman for The Christian Institute said: “This is a relief for pharmacists. It simply shows a bit of respect for people of faith and by doing so should more or less maintain the status quo in practice for pharmacists and their customers.”
He added: “The final guidance shows a marked shift in tone and clear recognition that referral to another service provider is still an option, provided care is not compromised. The right to conscience recognised in the European Convention on Human Rights is explicitly mentioned.
“The new rules are certainly not perfect, but there is a rebalancing which takes on board the rights of pharmacists and the need to balance those with the rights of service users.
“We’re grateful to the GPhC for offering to meet with us earlier this year to discuss our concerns. However, we were fully prepared to litigate and made this clear in pre-action legal correspondence exchanged with the Council’s lawyers.”