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RPS and clinical bodies write to Boris Johnson to keep face mask rule

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and other healthcare bodies have written a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging for compulsory mask wearing to stay.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday (July 12), Mr Johnson said the government will stick to its plan to lift social distancing and “legal restrictions” from July 19, although it recommends that people continue wearing a face covering “in crowded and enclosed spaces”.

The RPS in England, the British Dental Association, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, and the College of Optometrists sent a letter to Mr Johnson today (July 14), in which they argued that “the use of face masks, social distancing and regular handwashing by the public must stay in place” after July 19.

The government must recognise health and care settings “as unique environments for the care and safety of the most vulnerable”, the bodies wrote.

“While you state that you would expect the public to continue wearing face coverings in healthcare settings, we ask that this is translated into action,” they added.

The letter also argued that healthcare professionals in all settings should have access to FFP3 masks, as they might come “into close contact with known or suspected COVID-19 patients”.

Last week (July 6), RPS England chair Thorrun Govind called on patients and staff to continue wearing face masks after the COVID-19 restrictions are loosened.

Today, she said that while some pharmacies are “retail environments, they remain a healthcare setting and have been relied upon to support and protect the public over the past 18 months”, adding that the government should act to support pharmacists and their teams.

Meanwhile, the Welsh government said last week (July 11) that face coverings “will continue to be required in certain settings, such as public transport and taxis, and health and social care, as a minimum”. Scotland’s prime minister Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday (July 13) that “the mandatory wearing of face coverings… will remain in place not just now but, in all likelihood, for some time to come”.

Duty to maintain safe spaces

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) said in a statement yesterday (July 13) that it is concerned that some community pharmacy employers might decide that their staff and patients do not need to wear face masks because “it may detract from their desired retail ambience”.

PDA director of defence services Mark Pitt warned that “employers will be held to account if they do not ensure a safe workplace”.

While the PDA has heard that some NHS trusts will continue to ask patients to wear a face covering on their sites, it believes that there needs to be a “consistent approach across healthcare settings”.

The PDA surveyed its members and 82% of the 2,381 who responded – two-thirds of whom work in community pharmacies – said that patients visiting a healthcare setting should be required to wear a face mask.

A Twitter poll by C+D also found that most of its 78 respondents, 70.5%, would ask their patients to wear a face covering beyond July 19.

Meeting GPhC standards

In a statement issued yesterday, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) also asked employers to continue to follow the guidance issued by their respective governments as the pandemic continues.

GPhC CEO Duncan Rudkin said that registered pharmacies must provide their services in an environment that safeguards the health and wellbeing of the public.

“We would ask pharmacy owners to carefully consider how best they can continue to meet the standards and their ongoing health and safety obligations in order to protect patients, the public and staff, once some COVID-19 safety measures are no longer a legal requirement,” Mr Rudkin added.

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