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GPhC: Teams have ‘professional responsibility’ to isolate if asked

Pharmacy teams need to “comply with any directions” they are given by the contact tracers

Pharmacy teams have a “professional responsibility” to self-isolate for 14 days if they are asked to do so by contact tracers, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has said.

Members of the pharmacy team should “comply with any directions” they are given by contact tracers in their country “to protect themselves, their colleagues, patients and the public” from COVID-19, the GPhC said in an update earlier this week (June 8).

Concerns raised with the regulator in relation to pharmacy professionals “not self-isolating when asked to do so” will be considered “on a case-by-case basis”, the GPhC told C+D today (June 10).

“We would take into account the context in which the pharmacy professional is working as part of our consideration of any such concerns,” a GPhC spokesperson added.

Review business continuity plans

In its update earlier this week, the GPhC asked contractors to “review their business continuity plans and risk assessments” and “identify any further mitigating actions” they might be able to take to prevent a situation in which the whole pharmacy team is asked to self-isolate.

“We have signposted pharmacy owners and pharmacy professionals to guidance from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) and Community Pharmacy Scotland, which we would suggest would be useful for pharmacy owners to consider when they are reviewing their business continuity plans and risk assessments,” the GPhC spokesperson told C+D today.

Arrangements between “buddies”

Primary care contractors in England, including pharmacists, should prepare for eventual staff absences due to the test and trace programme, according to a letter from NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) published yesterday (June 9).

Contractors should ensure “that arrangements are in place within a primary care network or between buddies to maintain patient access to services”, according to the letter signed by NHSE&I chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard, NHSE&I chief nursing officer Ruth May, and NHSE&I national medical director Professor Stephen Powis.

Pharmacy owners will need to inform their commissioner if they believe that the “delivery of the full contracted service may be compromised by staff absence due to test and trace”.

“The commissioner will work with the contractor to put business continuity arrangements in place and to maintain access to services for patients,” Ms Pritchard, Ms May, and Professor Powis said in the letter.  

A range of business continuity arrangements have already been outlined for community pharmacies in Northern Ireland, including the “redeployment of dental staff to community pharmacy and a dedicated locum pharmacist portal”, a spokesperson for the Department of Health in Northern Ireland told C+D last week.

As C+D reported last week, PSNC CEO Simon Dukes is of the view that the test and trace programme in England could “close pharmacies pretty rapidly”.

“I believe we have already had an instance of a pharmacy closing as a result of track and trace,” Mr Dukes said at a virtual PSNC press briefing.

Contract tracing systems to identify those who have been in contact with someone who has the virus were introduced across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from the end of May.

What do you make of the GPhC's statement?

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Buddies ???

This may work well in places FULLY and OVER funded by the Govt & DOHSC. But how will this work in a Pharmacy ??

All that these people (NHSE, RPS, DHSC et al) can do is produce more Guidance and ask us to prepare Business Continuity plans. On what basis will you prepare a business continuity plan if you cannot find a Locum/ Staff in normal circumstances??

Just take the scenario below:

A person has an appointment at the surgery for a blood test (yes they are still doing this) at 8.45am. That person has no symptoms of COVID-19. Attends the surgery and while he was there (over 15 minutes) the GP gives a Rx for a Vit-D. He goes straight in to the Pharmacy, waits another 15 minutes, gets his bag of pills signs the Rx E and leaves after a brief chat with the Pharmacist about current affairs. Since he was already out, he goes in to the nearby shops (to help local businesses) and buys stuff after waiting in the social distancing que and spending roughly 15 minutes each while shopping and a chat with the local shop owners about current affairs and how the small shops are at risk of closing forever. When he gets in to his car and is about to go home, he remebers the list of items his wife had asked him to get from the Supermarket. He drives straight in to the Supermarket car park and spends about an hour in the Supermarket, as the list is big, bumping in to several angry customers in the que. Finally he is at the checkout and sneaks behind the plastick shield to complain to the till lady that the service is very bad and he had wait 1 hour in the que.

Now, the best part, after 2 days he gets his test result for COVID-19 (which he had taken 4 days ago) saying he is COVID-19 +ve with no symtoms.

Does this mean all those people/ places he visited have to self isolate for 14 days?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I think the answer to that is yes for the 'over 15 minutes' ones - wouldn't you want to know if someone you had been in close contact with was positive so that you could avoid passing it on? My wife is vulnerable because of kidney disease - I would want to know so that I could avoid passing it on to her.

O J, Community pharmacist


Give some respect. Its Dr Keith Ridge. This person has been an absolute gem and performed countless miracles. He is the Noah of the community pharmacy. This man deserves all our support. He should definitely be awarded a knighthood.

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

Why stop there? Give the man a statue, since there are plenty going vacant at the moment across the country.

C A, Community pharmacist

A statue would be a great idea, but given the conditions in pharmacy currently I'm not sure it would stay up too long.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Just a Knighthood? Nah, he should be the next Pharmacy Minister or better, The SECRETary of HEalth may be.

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

are you applying for a job as a politician?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Think he may be applying for a job as a comedian....I got the joke!

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

so did I, it was the voracity I was referring to..

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Good. You'd be surprised how many people take things on here deadly seriously. Sorry I got you confused with one of them. Glad to hear GSOH hasn't died out completely in Pharmacy!

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

And once again, the locum is at the bottom of the pile - more likely to get a contact because of working across multiple premises and then forced to take a nice two week unpaid holibobby. Great......

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

I really would love to hear of any stories where a whole community pharmacy team has had to close and the staff isolate for 14days!! absolutely ridiculous.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Ah, there's a loophole. If you were wearing PPE the entire time, you are exempt apparently. 

On Break, Community pharmacist

Does it also apply if you have spent that time at least 2m from them or you were behind a plastic screen while talking?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Truth? If so where does the burden of proof lie?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Typically, it lies with the person who is making the complaint to provide evidence. How I would imagine that translates in real terms would be that the employer proving that the employees were wearing PPE the entire time.

However, forcing the issue would leave a very sour taste all-round...I wouldn't want to be in the middle of dealing with something like that. It's a lose-lose situation!

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

In many ways, they have no option, the obvious problem with it is the Jekyll and Hyde attitude that NHSE displays to risk in Pharmacies...if we are safe behind barriers/screens and don't need PPE, then we can't infect our patients or be infected by them so don't need to close if it's a patient that's traced.
If we aren't then we should have been using, and provided with, PPE from the start and NHSE need to admit they made a mistake...not that they could conceive of making one or worse apologising...
If it's a friend or someone a staff member has met, then unless staff HAVE been wearing PPE permanently they will all have to isolate.
I think it will cause a lot of permanent Pharmacy closures, the stress must be awful.
But our friend Keith will be grinning like a loon

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I'd be curious to see the attrition done to community pharmacy once this whole situation is cleared.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I think attrition of pharmacies is part of the grand plan. DoH have seen a way to achieve their stated aim of reducing the number of pharmacy contractors and they're going to seize this chance with both their grubby little paws.

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