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PHE ‘must revise PPE guidance for dispensary staff’

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association has called on Public Health England to revise its position on PPE for pharmacy dispensary staff and make clear that they are entitled to wear fluid resistant surgical masks (FRSM) in all situations where social distancing cannot be maintained.

PHE guidance from April 2 said pharmacy staff should wear surgical masks where it is not possible to maintain social distancing of at least two metres. This was widely understood to mean that dispensary staff should in many cases be given FRSM, as in many pharmacies it is not possible to maintain two metres’ distance between staff members.

However, an April 9 bulletin from NHS England & Improvement provided more detail on the guidance, placing an emphasis on the risk posed by interactions between staff and patients: “It would be extremely helpful, both to protecting longer term supplies to pharmacies and to keeping supplies going to other health professionals, if pharmacies limit the number of staff that have to be within 2 metres of the public to help manage the use of masks and maintain availability.

“Pharmacy staff working in dispensaries but unable to maintain 2 metres from their work colleagues do not necessarily need to wear masks.”

'Staff can be pre-symptomatic'

The PDA said today that while there are “undoubtedly significant shortages of PPE” in the NHS, the guidance “does not stand up to scrutiny” as “anyone, including staff members, can be pre-symptomatic and spread coronavirus”.

PDA Chairman Mark Koziol said: “The national shortages of PPE do not remove the risks to individuals working in close proximity in a dispensary and PHE should change its advice on dispensary based staff.

“PHE should provide the facts based on the science and the availability, clearly communicate the risks and then allow pharmacists and their teams to decide how best to manage those risks.”

In dispensaries where social distancing is impossible and there is no PPE provided by the NHS, the PDA told its members they  have four options: 

  • Request that their employers provide the required protective equipment. 
  • Provide their own masks to wear at work and seek recompense from the employer. 
  • Ask to be moved to a less hazardous work area where protection measures may be in place or where 2m distancing is possible, or ask to be furloughed (if they are high-risk individuals or share their home with high-risk or vulnerable individuals). 
  • Work without a mask in the dispensary (if they feel their risk is relatively low and they do not have at-risk individuals at home). 

'Poor employer behaviour'

The PDA added: “The PHE advice has been unhelpful as the PDA has been made aware of many examples of poor employer behaviour related to the wearing of PPE by pharmacy staff, including locums being informed that they would no longer be booked because they chose to provide their own face mask and wear it at work.

“One of the worst examples was an email to staff at a chain of pharmacies which banned the wearing of PPE by any staff in any pharmacy.

“Employers are reminded that should an employee come to harm as a result of working unprotected, they have a legal obligation to report this under RIDDOR regulations.”

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