London, England, Jan 26, 2017 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Proposed standards for U.K. medical professionals could force them to violate their religious beliefs on the job, both Christian and Muslim groups have warned. David Clapham, a treasurer of the group Christians in Pharmacy, says the proposed changes could deter religious people from entering the profession and may make “the position of some excellent professionals untenable.”

“This would be to the detriment of the profession, patients and pharmacy as a whole,” he said, according to The Pharmaceutical Journal, a publication of the U.K.-based Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The independent regulator for pharmacy in Great Britain, the General Pharmaceutical Council, recently announced proposed changes in professional standards. Both the current and the proposed wording for the professional standards guidance say that pharmacy professionals must “recognize their own values and beliefs” but “not impose them on other people.”

However, current guidelines allow pharmacy professionals to make a referral to other providers in cases where their own values or beliefs prevent them from providing care. The proposed guidelines say pharmacy professionals should “take responsibility for ensuring that person-centered care is not compromised because of personal values and beliefs.”

Referrals usually concern the provision of emergency hormonal contraception, routine contraception and some fertility treatments. “People of faith are usually people of compassion … even if they cannot agree in all conscience to supply certain medications,” Clapham said. Hina Shahid, chair of the Muslim Doctors Association, voiced concerns that the proposed changes, like ending the right of referral, are “very restrictive.”

“It is important to recognize that adhering to a high standard of professionalism in the workplace involves respecting the rights of health practitioners and accommodating values and principles that are important to them, religious or otherwise,” Shahid said. She objected that the changes treat patient-centered care and the values of health care practitioners as “mutually exclusive.”

Duncan Rudkin, the chief executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council, said that the proposal would not force pharmacists to act against their beliefs. “The whole point of the guidance is (saying) think ahead so that they do not get themselves into a position where there may be a risk.”

At the same time, a consultation document for the pharmaceutical council itself acknowledged the standards represented changed expectations for pharmacy professionals when their values or beliefs might affect their ability to provide services. A referral to another provider “might not be the right option” or might compromise person-centered care, the document said,

A previous consultation, held in April 2016, found that most commentators on the relevant section thought that professionals should not be able to refuse services because of their religion or beliefs, the General Pharmaceutical Council said. If approved, the proposed changes would be introduced in May 2017.