The public is now being advised to wear a face covering in situations where “it could be difficult to follow social distance measures and keep two metres apart,” a Department of Health and Social Care (DH) spokesperson told C+D yesterday (May 11). This might include pharmacies, the spokesperson added.
Face coverings can “help reduce the risk of transmission”, the government said yesterday. Having reviewed the latest scientific evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), it is now advising the use of face protection in enclosed public spaces.
Chief medical officer and SAGE member professor Chris Whitty said that wearing a face covering “may have some benefit in reducing the likelihood that a person with the infection passes it on”.
Public Health England (PHE) had previously not recommended that people wear face masks in public. In January, PHE said that while the wearing of face masks “plays a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals, there is very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings”.
Availability of PPE
The government’s new advice also discourages people from purchasing “medical grade masks, which are prioritised for healthcare workers working in more high-risk environments where the risk is greatest”.
Instead, people can make their own face masks at home or wear scarves or other textile items to cover their face, according to the DH.
The government will not be supplying the public with face masks as “at home items and fabrics readily available on the market can be used” to make them, the DH said.
The Pharmacists' Defence Association director Paul Day told C+D today (May 12) that “urging the public not to buy medical grade masks emphasises concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies.”
Amish Patel, managing director at Hodgson Pharmacy in Longfield, Kent, told C+D today that he welcomes the new advice on wearing masks in public. Following the advice could be “essential to maintaining safety” and helping the UK avoid a second wave of COVID-19, he said.
However, he questions the availability of face masks and the DH’s decision to encourage the public to make their own.
“I don’t agree with that element and question what evidence they have of its effectiveness,” he says. “As a minimum, the government needs to improve [its] efforts for everyone to be wearing a surgical mask.”
Commenting on the DH’s new advice on face coverings, Mr Day argued that “just reminding patients to wear masks will not be enough”.
Each pharmacy employer or manager should “listen carefully to the team before agreeing with them what measures they need to take in those particular premises to ensure the safety of employees”, he said.
Managers should later share any arrangement with the rest of the team and, “as appropriate”, with patients, he added.
The DH said that evidence from the World Health Organisation had shown that “where masks were recommended for prolonged periods of time” some people were not following social distancing policies or “good hand washing practices”.
But, as “England has demonstrated strong adherence to social distancing”, it decided to still recommend that people wear face coverings.
However, Graham Phillips, director of the Manor Pharmacy group, told C+D today that although he welcomes the advice, people should have been asked to wear a face covering at the start of the pandemic in the UK.
Pharmacies have already been working to implement social distancing on their premises, to protect both patients and staff.
This has involved, in some cases, the introduction of Perspex screens, physical barriers and signage on the floor.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley told C+D today that the organisation is “currently actively considering this issue to see how best we can support pharmacy teams to ensure they keep themselves and the public safe”.