No cases of COVID-19 infections among employees have been reported by community pharmacy employers, while GP practices have reported 51 cases and hospitals 1,526, the government revealed in response to a parliamentary question asked by Lord Kennedy of Southwark last week (July 2).
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) director Paul Day said the government’s figures revealed that “either there have been no instances in community pharmacy, which we find inconceivable, or it means that some employers have failed to meet their reporting obligations”.
The PDA is calling on pharmacy employers to meet their reporting obligations and refer cases of transmission that happened in the workplace to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013.
Employers should report these cases “without further delay”, even if they have missed the regulatory deadline for doing so, the PDA said in a statement earlier this week (July 6).
“The PDA believes it highly improbable that not a single instance of coronavirus among members of the community pharmacy team was from exposure in the workplace,” the organisation said.
Hard to determine transmission point
Lord Kennedy said he was “hugely surprised” by the answer he received to his question in parliament, because while GPs “massively reduced interactions with patients” during COVID-19, they still reported over 50 cases.
“In dispensing chemists, where activity has dramatically increased during the pandemic, there has not been a single case reported,” he said.
A National Pharmacy Association spokesperson told C+D yesterday (July 7) that the organisation is surprised by the figure that was communicated by the government.
However, it has approached the HSE to understand whether the way it has classified incidents “is part of the explanation for the apparent lack of cases”.
“We believe that it may have been challenging for employers to determine whether cases of COVID-19 among pharmacy staff have been caused by exposure at work, but this doesn’t explain the big difference on reporting compared to GPs and hospitals,” they added.
Figures “not surprising”
An Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) spokesperson told C+D yesterday that it “is hard, if not impossible, to establish where a team member might have contracted COVID-19”.
“It is not surprising that there are few, if any, reported by employers as having got [COVID-19] at work, as that would be guesswork,” they added.
The Company Chemists' Association CEO Malcolm Harrison told C+D today (July 8) that it might be difficult to identify cases of where “the person’s work was the source of exposure to COVID-19” compared with “general societal exposure” as “COVID-19 is prevalent in the general population”.
“Work with the general public, as opposed to work with persons known to be infected, is not considered sufficient evidence to indicate that a COVID-19 diagnosis is likely to be attributable to occupational exposure. Such cases do not require a report,” he added.