As “independent healthcare professionals”, pharmacists had every right to refuse to sell the morning-after pill if it went against their moral beliefs, Malta Chamber of Pharmacists president Mary Ann Sant Fournier said yesterday.
Ms Sant Fournier’s comments came in the wake of a decision by the Medicines Authority that the contraceptive could be sold over the counter.
“One must emphasise the status that pharmacists enjoy as independent healthcare professionals and their right to conscientious objection should be upheld at all times,” Ms Sant Fournier said when contacted.
Medicines Authority chief Anthony Serracino Inglott told the Times of Malta on Monday that, while taking into consideration the recommendations of the joint parliamentary committee set up to discuss the introduction of the MAP, those wanting to obtain the pill would not need a prescription.
Instead, they could ask for it at a pharmacy, a move which was crucial to ensure that the contraceptive’s efficacy was not compromised, he said.
Ms Sant Fournier said that the authority’s decision to classify the MAP as a non-prescription, pharmacist ‘moderated’ medicine was in line with the situation in the majority of EU member states.
“This decision attests to the standing of community pharmacists in Malta as highly-trained healthcare professionals, long dedicated to delivering excellent patient-centred care and their optimal attention to clients,” Ms Sant Fournier said, rejecting claims that pharmacists did not have the necessary skills to dispense the MAP.
The joint parliamentary committee had come to the conclusion that the MAP should only be given against a prescription following a suggestion by the Medical Council, which had insisted it should be doctors who decided whether or not to prescribe the pill.
“Pharmacists will be the first port of call for those seeking emergency contraception and, like their international counterparts, shall choose to dispense or otherwise according to a previously established protocol.
“This will ensure optimal, safe use of the emergency contraceptive while informing on its correct use,” Ms Sant Fournier said.
In the coming weeks, she said, the chamber would be organising an event to propose “a specific protocol for the dispensing of emergency contraception”.
According to Prof. Serracino Inglott, the Medicines Authority will also be supplying pharmacists with a set of guidelines.
The decision to make the contraceptive available over the counter came just a day after some 300 people protested in Valletta over the parliamentary committee’s recommendation for the morning-after pill to be sold against a prescription.
The debate on whether the morning-after pill should be made available made headlines earlier this year when the Women’s Rights Foundation filed a judicial protest against the State calling for MAP to be licensed.