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COVID-19: Pharmacies struggle to get PPE from emergency delivery line

Pharmacists in England are reporting difficulties sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) through the national supply disruption response (NSDR) line.

An NHS England and NHS Improvement bulletin to primary care providers sent last week, (March 28), said that those experiencing problems getting a hold of PPE could be issued with an “emergency delivery of these pre-packed kits” within 72 hours if they called a 24/7 NSDR helpline.

However, pharmacists who have called the helpline report being told they need to source PPE from their usual suppliers first. Only one pharmacist C+D has spoken to so far was able to get hold of protective equipment through this route.

Pharmacies should order PPE from their wholesalers for use “by their staff only in line with the Public Health England guidance”, chief pharmaceutical officer for England Keith Ridge and Ed Waller, director of primary care strategy and NHS contracts at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said in a letter to community pharmacies earlier this week (March 31).

“Stock is being made available to wholesalers”, according to the letter. However, wholesalers told C+D today (April 2) that some or all their PPE is out of stock.

“A list of questions”

The government and NHS leaders today published new guidance for NHS teams on the use of PPE – based on WHO recommendations. The guidance is backed by the four UK medical officers, among others, and applicable to all parts of the UK.

Advice includes that “any clinician working in a hospital, primary care or community care setting within two metres of a suspected or confirmed coronavirus COVID-19 patient should wear an apron, gloves, surgical mask and eye protection”. The guidance adds that this should be done “based on the risk”.

Locum pharmacist Sameera Esa, who currently works at Yakub Chemist in Leicester, told C+D yesterday (April 1) that when she called the NSDR line about PPE, she was told “it isn’t guaranteed that I would receive them”.

“I had to answer a list of questions first. One of them was to make sure I have done everything possible to obtain them from other suppliers. I had done this, and I explained that our wholesalers had nothing in stock,” she said.

Ms Esa received an email on Sunday (March 29) which said that her query had been assigned. However, she told C+D yesterday that she had not heard anything since.

Stuart Nicholls, superintendent pharmacist at Marden Pharmacy in Marden, Kent told C+D today that he was asked why he couldn’t obtain PPE privately both times he rang the NSDR helpline.

“I gave the same answer, that all our suppliers are unable to oblige. Yesterday [the second time I called], they put me down for a delivery, but it hasn't arrived yet.”

Source from wholesalers

Rajesh Shah, superintendent pharmacist at Hollowood Chemists, told C+D yesterday that none of his 16 branches, which are in the north west of England, have been able to get hold of any PPE through the NSDR line.

“We’ve tried the wholesalers; we haven’t received anything from them. We emailed [the NSDR], because there was an email for the NHS line. We phoned them, we received nothing.”

Mr Shah also emailed the NSDR team, but the response he received suggested he try sourcing PPE from wholesalers, he told C+D.

However, one of the pharmacists C+D spoke with – Amish Patel, managing director at Hodgson Pharmacy in Longfield, Kent  – said he managed to get a delivery of PPE through the NSDR line within 72 hours of placing the order.

Pharmacies should “use the PPE delivered to them”

An NHS spokesperson told C+D yesterday that “170 million more pieces of protective kit have been delivered to every community pharmacist in the past fortnight, and they should continue to use the PPE stock that has been delivered to them”.

If more PPE is needed, pharmacists should order it from their wholesaler, the spokesperson said. They added that NHS England is “working with PHE on future plans for delivery”.

Fortuna Healthcare told C+D today that they currently have gloves, masks, aprons and suits in stock, while goggles are out of stock.

Lexon said they ran out of gloves and do not keep stock of any other PPE, while BETA Pharmaceuticals said the only PPE they currently offer is face masks, but these are out of stock.

SIGMA Pharmaceutical, which sells KN95 face masks, told C+D that some masks have been ordered from suppliers and they should receive them by next week.

AAH Pharmaceutical said they “do not currently sell PPE, nor have we sold any in the past”.

Have you been able to get PPE through the NSDR line?

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