Masks ordered from wholesalers a Covid cost
Face masks are being made available to community pharmacies via wholesalers, with new stocks going in this week, according to NHS England. Pharmacies will have to pay upfront for the masks, but NHS England is recognising that the purchase is a Covid-related cost.
Updated guidance recognises the risks to community pharmacy staff. The Public Health England recommendation that surgical masks are made available to front line staff follows recognition that they might see someone with a possible or confirmed case of Covid-19 and need to feel protected.
“The supply of masks is limited and it is important they are used responsibly and in the areas where the risks are highest - where pharmacy staff are not able to keep a distance of 2 metres from potentially affected patients," deputy chief pharmaceutical officer Bruce Warner said on NHS England’s community pharmacy Covid webinar on Wednesday evening.
"Ideally there would be plenty of stock for everybody, but we are not in that situation yet. We do need to make supplies last as long as possible,” he said.
Masks allocated for community pharmacy will be available via wholesalers, said Jill Loader, deputy director for pharmacy commissioning at NHS England and Improvement. Three large wholesalers are getting supplies today [Thursday].
"People should order them: they will need to be paid for, but we do recognise that this is a Covid-related cost to community pharmacy, so that will be considered later. Our priority is to get the masks out,” said Ms Loader.
Covid-19 is predominantly a disease that is spread by droplets that might fall within a one metre space of an individual, according to the World Health Organisation, said Susan Hopkins, PHE's national incident director for the outbreak. PHE had decided to go further in its recommendation for mask wearing by adopting the 2m social distancing distance.
PHE is recommending 'sessional use' of masks as they are in short supply. Since the mask is there predominantly to protect the wearer from others, the recommendation is that it is worn until damp. This could be three to four hours, but could be up to eight hours, depending on how heavy someone's breathing is, or how hot it is.
“We are not recommending that those who do not have front line contact with individuals wear masks. That’s particularly important in areas like a small dispensary, where you will have staff working together, Those staff are not recommended to wear masks,” said Dr Hopkins.
Wearing a mask is not the only thing pharmacies can do to reduce the risks of transmission, she added. "Other really important aspects are regular cleaning - particularly the touch points like the doors and the counter area - and ensuring that staff who are potentially handing over or receiving things can use hand sanitisers or wash their hands to protect themselves. Staff should avoid touching their faces wherever possible, to minimise the risk of contamination on the face."