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Are patients still wearing face masks in pharmacies?

Pharmacists tell C+D how patients' attitudes towards wearing face coverings have changed following the relaxation of some COVID-19 restrictions in England

Mask-wearing once again became optional in England on January 27, when some COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

Though the government no longer mandates them, it still recommends the public continues “to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces” and requires they be worn “in health and care settings to comply with infection prevention and control”.

As of today (February 11), masks are still required in all shops, public transport, and health and care settings in Wales – though some restrictions have been eased – and are still mandatory in indoor settings in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Contractors tell C+D about patients' current attitudes towards wearing face coverings at their pharmacies, with some suggesting additional ways to keep the premises safe.


“95% of people oblige without issue”


Chief executive officer at the Liverpool Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC) and superintendent pharmacist and director at Green Lane Pharmacy Matt Harvey says he has seen “a slight increase in people not wearing masks” since the lifting of restrictions in England.

However, the number of unmasked visitors was still “pretty high even when they were legally required”, he tells C+D.

“If a patient attends the pharmacy without a mask, a member of staff politely asks that they put one on,” Mr Harvey explains. “Ninety-five per cent of people oblige without issue”.

His pharmacy team did experience some disruption from patients, although “only a small handful have been abusive towards staff”, he says.

One “stood outside and told every person entering that masks aren't a legal requirement and not to listen to the staff”, Mr Harvey recalls, while some “wait outside” the pharmacy and “expect staff to then serve them out there”.

“This adds operational complexity and time to the staff’s workload,” he argues.

Mr Harvey tells C+D he responded to an email complaint from a someone referencing the new government guidelines by pointing to the NHS guidance and explaining that “vulnerable staff and patients” visit the pharmacy and need to be kept safe.


No mask, no consultation


A Milton Keynes-based pharmacist tells C+D that he is still asking his team to wear face coverings, although “about 50% of customers coming into the shop have stopped wearing masks”, he says.

His team then have to ask these customers to wear a face covering, he says.

The pharmacy also has "a sign on the consultation room door that says: ‘No mask, no entry’ and we ask anyone who needs to go into the room to wear masks”, he continues.


Disinfection robot “for peace of mind”


Ali Sparks, the director of happiness and technology at The Health Dispensary in Neath, South Wales, tells C+D that her pharmacy has invested in a “disinfection robot” for “peace of mind”.

“I think it helps to know the environment [is] as safe as possible,” she adds.

Responding to a C+D tweet in January about how pharmacy teams were feeling about the lifting of mask mandates in England, Royal Pharmaceutical Society fellow Mohammed Hussain – who is also a non-executive director at the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – said he had “invested in a HEPA air purifier in the pharmacy to protect the team”.


Worries over scrapping of self-isolation


Meanwhile Reena Barai, owner of the S G Barai Pharmacy in Sutton, south London, tells C+D that she has experienced “no issues with patients continuing to wear masks”.

However, she is worried about “the potential news of removing isolation and the impact of this on pharmacy teams”, she says.

The government has said it intends to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England – including the legal requirement to self-isolate for five days after testing positive – in late February, a month earlier than expected.

“This will mean patients who are positive [for COVID-19] will come into the pharmacy”, she explains, and pharmacy team members who “test positive then could come into work technically, too”.

The impact of the prime minister’s proposals "could be big”, Ms Barai fears.



What are you doing to make sure patients still wear a face mask when entering pharmacy premises?

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