Are pharmacy teams still asking visitors to wear face masks?
Mask wearing in pharmacies wasn’t compulsory at the beginning of the pandemic, but guidance has changed multiple times during the past 20 months. What are pharmacies expecting of patients today?
It is indisputable that fewer people in England are now wearing face coverings in closed spaces compared to when we were at the height of the pandemic.
This is despite the number of COVID-19 cases across the UK remaining high, with 43,676 reported on November 24.
The government in England and Scotland mandated the use of masks in pharmacies from July 2020, and while this and other COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in England from July this year, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) said at the time that patients and staff should continue wearing face coverings in all healthcare settings – including pharmacies.
C+D has asked independent and multiple pharmacies if and how they are ensuring patients and visitors still follow the guidance that applies to their country.
Hand out spare masks
Reena Barai, owner of the S G Barai Pharmacy in Sutton, south London, told C+D: “All my staff wear masks all day, and they all want to wear them too.”
“All my patients, unless exempt, have been happy to wear masks too,” she continued, adding that she has masks on hand for visitors who forget to wear one.
The pharmacy has “almost full-height screens too around our counter”, so Ms Barai’s team and patients feel safe, she said.
A Lloydspharmacy spokesperson told C+D that pharmacists are requesting their staff wear masks unless they are exempt.
“Customers and patients are required to wear face masks if they are receiving treatment at one of our pharmacies”, the spokesperson said, “and we do encourage all visitors to our [branches] to wear face masks if they can”.
Follow the guidance
Similarly, Boots also recommends that patients wear face coverings in its pharmacies, “especially at busy times”, a spokesperson for the multiple told C+D.
The multiple’s guidance is “in line with government advice and guidance from the NHS, Royal Pharmaceutical Society and other healthcare organisations”, they said.
Different guidance applies to different countries. Mask wearing continues to be mandatory in Scotland in indoor spaces and crowded outdoor spaces, according to the Scottish Government’s website. The use of face coverings is also required in all indoor settings accessible to the public across Northern Ireland and Wales.
In England, the government still “expect[s] and recommend[s] that members of the public continue to wear face coverings in crowded or enclosed spaces” and recommends that people “use [their] judgement” when deciding whether to wear a mask, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) wrote on its website.
However, the official guidance on infection prevention and control for seasonal respiratory infections in health and care settings for winter 2021/22 – issued by the DH, Public Health Wales, Public Health Agency Northern Ireland, NHS National Services Scotland, UK Health Security Agency and NHS England – notes that organisations “may adopt practices that differ from those recommended/stated in this national guidance” to ensure “safe systems of work”.
The IPC guidance, which was last updated yesterday (November 24), advises that patients and visitors “across all healthcare settings” wear a face covering, “providing it is tolerated and is not detrimental to their medical or care needs”.
The recommendation for all patients and staff to wear a face covering is likely to be upheld until “at least March/April 2022”, according to the IPC guidance.
Despite the national guidance, some pharmacy teams have faced abuse from visitors when they have been asked to wear a face mask on the premises.
Hello, NHS England have stated infection prevention control measures must remain in place & so staff, patients & visitors are expected to continue to follow social distancing rules & wear face coverings in all healthcare settings, including pharmacies unless medically exempt.— Day Lewis Pharmacy (@DayLewisGroup) October 29, 2021
C+D has approached Day Lewis for comment on this Twitter exchange.
Rowlands: “No rule enforcement”
A spokesperson for Rowlands told C+D that the multiple continues to encourage and recommend mask wearing, “but [it] isn’t mandatory across our pharmacy network”.
“Rules about mask wearing differ across England, Scotland and Wales and so posters to advise customers [to] wear a mask are still present in-branch.
“There is no rule enforcement, nor do we refuse service to anyone not wearing a mask. We also ask colleagues to be mindful of those who may be exempt from wearing a mask for any reason,” they added.
What is your pharmacy's policy on mask wearing? Have you or your team faced harassment from visitors when they have been asked to comply with COVID-19 safety restrictions? Share your views and experiences on the C+D Community.