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COVID-19: Pharmacies to use masks if 'unable' to keep social distance

Pharmacy teams should wear fluid-resistant surgical masks if social distancing cannot be maintained, according to new guidance applicable across the UK.

The updated guidance on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), which was published yesterday (April 2), reflects the fact that COVID-19 is “now widespread in the community” and clinicians are more likely to come in contact with patients with “minimal or no symptoms”.

This guidance was issued jointly by the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England, NHS England, Public Health Wales, Public Health Agency Northern Ireland and Health Protection Scotland.

The sessional use of fluid-resistant (Type IIR) surgical masks is recommended in pharmacy when “working in an area with possible or confirmed case(s) and unable to maintain two metres social distance”, according to specific guidelines for pharmacy teams.

However, “if social distancing of two metres is maintained, there is no indication for PPE in a pharmacy setting”, the guidance said.

The updated guidance comes as pharmacists are reporting difficulties sourcing PPE through the national supply disruption response line and from wholesalers.

“Potentially exposed”

Commenting on the guidance, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that although patients with COVID-19 symptoms have been asked not to go to pharmacies, some “are not following that guidance and pharmacy team members are potentially being exposed to possible or confirmed cases”.

Even if pharmacy staff decide to wear face masks as prescribed by the guidance, PSNC reiterated that “it is imperative that social distancing and self-isolation, where appropriate, continue to be practised and hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing, continue to be followed”.

Earlier this week, pharmacy bodies asked pharmacies to consider how social distancing can be achieved. They suggested that when it is not possible to maintain the two-metre distance, pharmacies should close their doors and control entry to the premises.

Will you start wearing a face mask in your pharmacy?

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