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Pharmacies struggle to get face masks despite DH supply to wholesalers

Community pharmacies in England have told C+D they are still struggling to get hold of face masks despite the DH sending additional quantities to wholesalers earlier this month.

Alliance Healthcare, AAH and Phoenix UK were sent fluid-resistant surgical masks from the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DH) stockpile earlier this month, on April 9. 

However, the wholesalers have told C+D they only received “limited stock” of face masks. This has made it difficult for pharmacies to order the amount of masks they need.

AAH told C+D earlier this week (April 22) that it has exhausted its existing supply of face masks but was able to secure more stock from suppliers other than the DH and will make this available to customers “in the next couple of weeks”.

Prioritising own stores? 

Some pharmacists have told C+D they think the three major wholesalers might be prioritising their own stores for deliveries of face masks.

AAH told C+D it did “set aside” some face masks for regular customers in England (including Lloydspharmacies) when the delivery from the DH arrived, while Alliance Healthcare said it adopted a “first come, first served” policy. Phoenix UK – which told C+D it has “some stock” at present – said there is “no preferential treatment for Rowlands pharmacies”. 

An AAH spokesperson told C+D earlier this week (April 21) that “limited stocks of masks arrived at AAH from DHSC just before the Easter weekend”, adding that “the supply was lower than the amount needed to meet all our customer requirements”.

“We set aside up to one box per pharmacy for regular customers in England – including Lloydspharmacy,” the spokesperson said.

Alliance Healthcare had also been supplied with a “very limited stock” and limited supplies to one box per pharmacy, delivering on a “first come, first served basis subject to availability”, a spokesperson told C+D earlier this week (April 21).

A spokesperson for Phoenix UK told C+D on April 21 that “all our customers are being treated equally and there is no preferential treatment for Rowlands pharmacies”.

They specified in an updated statement to C+D yesterday (April 23) that “it is anticipated that pharmacies will order from their usual wholesale supplier to ensure a managed distribution across the country”.

“Pharmacies with a Phoenix solus or access account who need PPE supplies should speak to their main wholesaler account manager,” they added.

Out of stock

A Royal Pharmaceutical Society survey that ran between April 14-20 and received 445 replies found that one in three pharmacists still cannot get continuous supplies of PPE.

Stuart Nicholls, superintendent pharmacist at Marden Pharmacy in Marden, Kent told C+D on April 21 that he was not able to place orders with the three wholesalers, as their online platforms “showed they were out of stock”.

He was, however, able to get hold of a box of PPE, which includes gloves, masks and aprons, through the national supply disruption line. 

Rifat Asghar-Hussain, superintendent pharmacist of Evergreen Pharmacy and Green Cross Pharmacy in Birmingham, told C+D that she was able to source stock from wholesalers for one of her two branches.

“They went out of stock literally within a day at most,” she told C+D on April 21. 

Ellie Bennett, managing director at Wicker Pharmacy in Sheffield told C+D that when she last checked face masks’ availability on April 22, Phoenix was the only wholesaler with some in stock. 

A pharmacy contractor in the east of England, who wishes to remain anonymous, tried to source PPE through the national supply disruption line, which any healthcare provider in need of an urgent supply of PPE can use. Unfortunately, they were told they would not be able to receive any.

The contractor told C+D on Wednesday (April 22) that they might not have enough PPE for their whole team by today (April 24).

“We're coming to work. We're trying to make a difference. I'm worried for my patients, I'm worried for my team and it causes me sleepless nights. 

“I've had 25% of my team off due to isolation, shielding… and we've got great workload, [which] is putting a strain on the team,” they added. 

Did you manage to order enough face masks for your team?

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