New legislation that making it mandatory for the public to wear face coverings in shops in England, including in pharmacies, was announced by the government on Tuesday (July 14).
From next Friday (July 24), people who fail to comply with the new legislation could receive a fine of up to £100. Just as on public transport, children under 11 and people with “certain disabilities” are exempt from this measure.
In a letter to pharmacy teams on the day of the announcement (July 14), seen by C+D, Lloydspharmacy outlined that its company policy around this measure is that staff should “not insist or enforce” the legal requirement, if patients refuse to wear a face covering.
While pharmacy teams can “remind people” of the requirement to wear one and suggest they purchase a face mask or covering from he pharmacy if they don’t have one, they should continue to serve patients as usual even if they do not comply – although they should adhere to social distancing measures.
When asked for further information about its company stance yesterday (July 16), Lloydspharmacy told C+D that enforcing the legislation is “the responsibility of the police”, while the pharmacy’s role is to provide medicines to patients, at the same time as “making sure that our colleagues and customers feel safe and are protected from COVID-19”.
“Our pharmacy teams will ask customers to wear a face mask but we do not expect them to enforce this legislation,” a spokesperson for Lloydspharmacy told C+D yesterday (July 16).
Well: Pharmacy teams should remind patients
Well has taken a similar position and told C+D yesterday that it encourages teams to “remind patients and customers about the law and the reduced risks for everyone that face coverings provide”, but that the responsibility for enforcing this will lie with the police.
“Obviously too, our teams will need to be mindful of the exemptions for certain groups,” a spokesperson for Well told C+D yesterday.
“We are planning on communications to our teams about this early next week in readiness for the law coming in from Friday,” they said.
“Our teams have full PPE to protect themselves as well as Perspex screens at the till points,” they added.
Boots: Some patients exempt
Boots will be “asking all customers shopping at Boots and visiting [its] pharmacies to wear a face covering from July 24”, a spokesperson told C+D today (July 17).
“While we need to ensure that this guidance is being followed, we understand that some [customers] are exempt from wearing them due to a pre-existing health condition,” they added.
Dangers of challenging patients
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) told C+D yesterday patients should be “well informed about the legal requirement” to wear a mask, but that challenging a patient who isn’t wearing one “could cause [them] to become violent”.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have already been “many more instances than usual of members of the public becoming abusive and violent when asked to adhere to social distancing”, she said.
“Pharmacies are also in a different legal position to retailers because while they can legally choose not to sell their goods to any customer, we must legally dispense prescriptions we are presented with,” she added.
The Company Chemists’ Association chief executive Malcolm Harrison told C+D yesterday that he “hopes there will be a pragmatic application of this well-intentioned legislation to allow healthcare professionals to care for patients without inadvertently breaking the law”.
In Scotland, those visiting pharmacies have been required to wear a face covering since last week (July 10).
NPA: Use professional judgement
Jasmine Shah, head of advice and support services at the National Pharmacy Association said it is “advising members to be pragmatic and use their professional judgement as healthcare professionals”.
“It is not for pharmacists to police the new law. Rather, it is to explain to customers the importance of protecting staff and fellow pharmacy users,” Ms Shah continued.
“Pharmacies will wish to set clear expectations about what they want customers to do, which includes wearing a face covering in most cases,” she added.