Women who have asked for the morning-after pill, which is available over the counter, complain about being asked questions by the pharmacist which they feel are too personal.

“I was asked about the number of partners I have had recently, as well as my sexual orien­tation. What does that have to do with making sure I’m safe?” one patient, who did not wish to be named, told this newspaper.

She added that no such questions were asked with other over-the-counter medicines.

Another patient said that after she asked for the morning-after pill, she was taken to a separate room inside the pharmacy, where she was asked a series of similar questions of a personal nature.

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While some questions were to be expected, as pharmacists were duty-bound to seek information about a patient’s health when dispensing any medication, these queries were “too personal”, one woman said.

The Chamber of Pharmacists did not see these questions as being out of order. Chamber president Mary Anne Sant Fournier said there was a certain due diligence that pharmacists must comply with when dispensing emergency contraception (ECP).

A pharmacist may refuse to dispense if he or she deems it is inappropriate, can be harmful or is being misused or abused

“Pharmacists follow a protocol which is based on those implemented by other countries where the ECP is provided by pharmacists. These protocols must be complied with and are there to safeguard women’s health and not to make access to emergency contraception difficult,” she said.

She added that patients should not fear answering questions, as it is “in their best interest”, while privacy and confidentiality are given priority by pharmacists.

Asked whether the practice was the norm with all over-the-counter medicines, Ms Sant Fournier said that ‘over the counter’ meant that a decision about whether or not to provide the service rested with the dispensing pharmacist.

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“A pharmacist may refuse to dispense if he or she deems it is inappropriate, can be harmful or is being misused or abused.

“If the emergency contraceptive, or any other over-the-counter medicine for that matter, were harmless and to be purchased without the pharmacist’s intervention, then such products would not be termed medicines, but food, and sold in supermarkets.”

She added that the Chamber stood by the pharmacists conducting and providing the service in “such a professional manner, as it should be”.

Following the introduction of the emergency contraceptive last year and the decision by the Medicines Authority to make it available over the counter, pharmacists were handed a set of guidelines by which to abide when dispensing it.

The guidelines tackle confidentiality and patient safety, among other issues.

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