The Health Ministry will not publish guidelines offering clear directions to women seeking to buy the morning-after pill, saying it “does not directly intervene in the pharmacist-patient relationship”.

Last week, a women’s community called for more sensitivity and clear direction for those wanting to buy the morning-after pill from pharmacies that choose to stock the emergency contraception. 

The morning-after pill is sold over the counter without a prescription. 

Women complained, through the online Facebook community Women for Women, about the lack of consistency across pharmacies when dispensing the pill, with some saying they felt “shamed and judged”.

Some spoke about the lack of sensitivity they felt when pharmacists asked personal questions in front of other customers. One woman questioned why she was asked for her ID details and had to reveal her identity in such a sensitive situation.

These comments spurred Women for Women founder Francesca Fenech Conti to send an open letter to the Chamber of Pharmacists asking for a clear procedure to be outlined to ensure women knew what to expect, and what questions they should be asked, when buying the pill.

Chamber of Pharmacists president Mary Ann Sant Fournier explained that the pharmacist is always obliged to ask the minimum questions when dispensing any medicinal product, even if it is classified as a non-prescription item. 

She said pharmacists were advised to ensure discretion and confidentiality in engaging with their patients at all times.

The Chamber, however, refused to publish the guidelines issued to its members when dispensing the emergency contraception – saying this was a confidential professional tool used by its members.

Times of Malta asked the Health Ministry about whether they would “publish some form of guidelines to ensure that women who want to buy the pill know when the line is being crossed”. These guidelines did not have to be the official directions issued by the Chamber.

A spokeswoman for the ministry replied: “Whilst always striving to keep the patient’s/ client’s interest foremost, the ministry does not directly intervene in the pharmacist/ patient relationship.

“On the other hand, any specific complaint is investigated by the Superintendent of Public Health. Furthermore, ethical and practice standards are regulated and monitored by the Pharmacy Council, which is an autonomous body.”

The introduction of the morning-after pill in December 2016 had stirred up controversy with some pharmacists refusing to dispense it for moral reasons – since they deemed it to be abortive. 

As a result, only pharmacies that wanted to stock it started selling it.