A woman was subjected to a “humiliating” ordeal at a Boots store after the senior pharmacist refused to speak to her to discuss why he had rejected her request for an emergency supply of contraception.
Maggie Richmond, an occupational therapist with the NHS, had gone into the chemist after advice from her GP who recommended she pick up the tablets.
The earliest appointment she could have with her local doctor was on the 24 September, ten days later.
The 24-year-old, said she felt confident of receiving the medication when she popped into the Boots pharmacy in Edinburgh on the way home from her work at the Royal Infirmary on 12 September.
Richmond said she had secured an emergency supply of contraception from the high-street giant once before and did not foresee any problems.
However, despite having proof of previously being prescribed the medication by her doctor and it being during GP hours if a call to check was required – the pharmacist refused to even speak to her.
Richmond said: “I went in and explained to the shop assistant, if I could speak to the pharmacist about getting this emergency one month’s supply. She was really quite tight-lipped and not that accommodating or friendly and said she would ask the pharmacist – she came back and told me, ‘He says no.’
“I told her this is what my GP is advising me to do – so she went back to speak to him again then came back and told me, ‘No, sorry’.
“The vibe I was getting was that his refusal was specifically to do with what I was asking for. That he didn’t want to give it to me. He looked up when I came in then refused to come out and speak to me. There’s a private consulting room and that option wasn’t offered to me.
“He wouldn’t even give his reason for refusing to give the emergency supply to me – maybe he did have a good reason but he’s not got a leg to stand on by not speaking to me.”
Richmond attended another two pharmacies, both with female pharmacists would have been happy to provide the medication, but did not have any in stock.
She was then served in another Boots, again by a female pharmacist, who she said treated her with “respect and dignity” before prescribing her the required emergency supply of contraception.
Richmond added: “I am most concerned this extremely negative experience appears to have been the result of a misogynistic attitude.
“I am a strong and independent 24-year-old individual with a thick skin and I found this humiliating – I can only imagine how a young or more vulnerable woman would be made to feel in these circumstances.
“It seemed that he really didn’t have that right to refuse me.”
Emma Ritch, Executive Director, of Scottish feminist organisation Engender, said: “Many people reading this will be shocked to learn that it is still seen as perfectly acceptable for pharmacists to withhold prescribed medication from patients based on their personal moral beliefs.
“Although guidelines require pharmacists to offer assistance to customers in finding an alternate provider, this clearly didn’t happen in this instance. This is not an isolated incident and it raises huge questions about access to contraception for disabled women, women with caring responsibilities, women in rural areas, women experiencing poverty, and other women who are not easily able to travel to multiple pharmacies to get hold of a prescribed medication.”
Boots said their pharmacists use professional judgment on a case by case basis and if for whatever reason they are unable to provide assistance there and then, they’ll refer patients to where they can receive it.
A Boots UK spokesperson said: “We’d like to apologise to the patient for any inconvenience and distress caused when requesting an emergency supply of her regular contraceptive medication. Contraceptive pills need a blood pressure check at regular intervals, and given that this was within GP opening hours, the pharmacist’s professional view was that before dispensing, it would be appropriate to refer this patient to her GP for a check and prescription. We’re very sorry this wasn’t explained better to the patient, and have shared her experience with the pharmacist to improve our service in the future.”