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PHE: Teams should wear face masks if pharmacy is not 'COVID-19 secure'

It is recommended that pharmacy staff wear face coverings if social distancing cannot be maintained, Public Health England (PHE) said in updated guidance last week (July 23).

The updated PHE guidance, was released last week (July 23), a day ahead of a new regulation making it illegal for patients in England to enter a pharmacy without a face covering, unless they are medically exempt from wearing one.

However, pharmacy staff are not legally obliged to wear a face covering, although a “local assessment may conclude” that both clinical and non-clinical staff in primary and community care should should wear one “where a COVID-19 secure environment cannot be maintained,” the PHE guidance said.

Contractors must “ensure that measures are in place so that all settings are, where practicable, COVID-secure, using social distancing, optimal hand hygiene, frequent surface decontamination, ventilation and other measures where appropriate”, according to the guidance.  

It is recommended that a “type l or type ll face mask [is] worn to prevent the spread of infection from the wearer”, but a type IIR may be used as an alternative if it is more readily available and if “there are no supply issues for their use as personal protective equipment,” PHE added.

Although the liability for wearing a mask lies with the individual, pharmacy contractor terms of service mean that a pharmacy “may refuse to provide medicines and appliances on prescription if a person commits or threatens to commit a criminal offence”, according to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).

The police are able to formally issue fines of up to £100 for failure to comply with the face mask rule but PSNC said contractors “must think carefully about the appropriateness of resorting to enforcement options”.

“If a person is not wearing a face covering, it may be difficult to determine if a relevant exemption applies, and in any event, the health needs of the patient or customer should also be considered; this is particularly relevant in healthcare settings, such as pharmacies,” it added.

Following the announcement earlier this month of it becoming compulsory for visitors to pharmacies in England to wear a face covering, multiples Lloydspharmacy and Well said they were advising teams not to actively “enforce” the rule.

What do you make of the guidance?

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