Monday, 21 October 2013

Whose conscience is it anyway?

I was browsing my September issue of Regula+e, published by the General Pharmaceutical Council, which is the regulatory body for pharmacies, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, when I came across this article about a pharmacist who had had conditions placed on his practice, by the Fitness to Practise (FtP) committee, for 'imposing his beliefs on patients' (pp24-25).

The pharmacist, during the course of supplying the morning after pill (EHC), told a patient that it was "a chemical abortion, was ending a life, and that this would be on her conscience". The patient was shocked and felt "rotten and horrible". He did not give her the option to go to another pharmacy.

Recently I blogged, among other things, about the weirdness of the fact that while pharmacists do not have to supply EHC, they do have to tell the patient where they can obtain it. This pharmacist didn't tell his patient where they could get EHC, because he did not decline the supply. Yes, apparently he was in the habit of giving what the FtP committee deem 'an embarrassing and distressing lecture' and then giving the patient the morning after pill anyway.
There seems to be a whole lot of weird stuff going on here. The FtP committee, for their part, merely have to judge whether a pharmacist has breached the code of ethics and, if so, whether conditions should be imposed or the individual removed from the register, so I'm going to ignore them. It's the behaviour of the pharmacist in question which puzzles me. If it was for moral or religious reasons that the pharmacist gave these speeches to his patients, why did he then supply EHC? What was he hoping to achieve? Was he trying to absolutely prevent evil (ie the patient does not terminate her pregnancy) or just avoid co-operating (the patient gets upset and goes to another pharmacy instead). But if the latter, why did he then supply? It is a mystery to me (although I recogise that I don't have all of the information about the case). And then there is the patient, who reported the pharmacist because he made her feel "rotten and horrible". I'm not saying the pharmacist shouldn't have been investigated, as his actions come across as a bit odd, to say the least: was this his usual manner of advising patients? But as taking the morning after pill causes side effects of headache, nausea, abdominal pain, bleeding and fatigue (very commonly), and dizziness, diarrhoea and vomiting (commonly), the 'rotten and horrible' feeling was somewhat inevitable, if only on a physical level.
Whether you, healthcare professional, go with a straight refusal to supply or a slightly more in depth explanation as to why not, or an attempt to engage the patient in discussion as to the rights or wrongs of EHC (or whatever other substance), do so with charity and professionalism! Haranguing the inidividual is unlikely to achieve anything, and following the harangue with supply even less.
Interestingly, one of the conditions imposed is that the pharmacist is not to supply EHC in the future. Sounds like good news all round.
PS My viewing stats passed the 10,000 mark this week. The list of referring sites may suggest to me that a lot of these views are not real people, but to those actual people who are reading: thank you :-)

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