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A pharmacy chain has been forced to apologise for a second time after a woman was refused emergency contraception because of the pharmacist’s personal beliefs, a year after a similar incident at a different branch.
Charlotte, 41, who preferred not to give her surname, said she felt “upset and humiliated” when the pharmacist at her local Lloyds Pharmacy branch in south London, told her she was unable to distribute the contraception “for religious reasons”.
Charlotte said the pharmacist told her she could order the contraception online and have it delivered, but did not ask if it was urgent, or provide other options or advice, during the incident on Wednesday last week.
“I just froze, I didn’t know what to say,” she said. “You have to take the medication within five days, and I was four days in, so it was actually quite urgent, but I shouldn’t have to justify it. I’m not normally someone who loses their words, but I was gobsmacked. I felt vulnerable, and I had no reason to be.”
Charlotte said she respected the pharmacist’s beliefs, but that this “should not encroach on a woman’s right to choose”, and called on Lloyds Pharmacy to do more to safeguard those seeking contraception.
“If someone is in the store who is unable to prescribe the morning-after pill due to religious beliefs, the customer shouldn’t be on the receiving end of that,” she said. “I felt her beliefs were imposed on me, and we shouldn’t live in that world. It’s not personal to that lady, but Lloyds Pharmacy have to improve their policy, there needs to be training.
“If I’m in my early 40s, and a mum, and I felt humiliated, I worry about younger, more vulnerable girls.”
Last year, Siani, 41, who also preferred to withhold her last name, was denied pre-ordered emergency contraception at a Lloyds Pharmacy branch in Brighton. The pharmacist said the product was ready but would not be distributed for “personal reasons”.
According to General Pharmaceutical Council guidance, pharmacists should “recognise their own values and beliefs but … not impose them on other people”. They are also obliged to “take responsibility for ensuring that person-centred care is not compromised because of their personal values and beliefs”.
A spokesperson for Lloyds Pharmacy said they were “extremely saddened” to confirm the incident, and apologised for “any distress caused”. The company said the pharmacist in question was a “relief” pharmacist, rather than a full-time member of staff.
“We support women’s choice and provide numerous contraceptive and sexual health services every day from our community pharmacies,” the spokesperson said. “We wholly respect pharmacists’ beliefs but expect them to follow the guidelines from the regulator with responsibility for the profession.”
Lloyds Pharmacy said it had investigated the incident and would speakdirectly with the pharmacist “to ensure they are clear on our expectations and process”.
The firm also said it was “continuing to strengthen our messaging and training to pharmacists” on the application of religious belief, and on ensuring customers had other options if pharmacists did not feel comfortable distributing medication.
Julia Hogan, lead contraceptive nurse for Marie Stopes UK, an NGO providing contraception and safe abortion internationally, said barriers to accessing emergency contraception could place “both health and wellbeing at risk” by denying people a “second chance at avoiding an unplanned pregnancy”.
“Although the majority of pharmacists provide compassionate, non-judgmental advice and support to women seeking emergency contraception, there are extremely worrying exceptions and pharmacies should work to ensure that women can access this essential medication as soon as they need it,” Hogan said.