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Pharmacies struggle to get face masks despite DH supply to wholesalers

Wholesalers say they were given only "limited" supplies of masks
Wholesalers say they were given only "limited" supplies of masks

Community pharmacies in England have told C+D they are still struggling to get hold of face masks despite the DH sending additional quantities to wholesalers earlier this month.

Alliance Healthcare, AAH and Phoenix UK were sent fluid-resistant surgical masks from the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DH) stockpile earlier this month, on April 9. 

However, the wholesalers have told C+D they only received “limited stock” of face masks. This has made it difficult for pharmacies to order the amount of masks they need.

AAH told C+D earlier this week (April 22) that it has exhausted its existing supply of face masks but was able to secure more stock from suppliers other than the DH and will make this available to customers “in the next couple of weeks”.

Prioritising own stores? 

Some pharmacists have told C+D they think the three major wholesalers might be prioritising their own stores for deliveries of face masks.

AAH told C+D it did “set aside” some face masks for regular customers in England (including Lloydspharmacies) when the delivery from the DH arrived, while Alliance Healthcare said it adopted a “first come, first served” policy. Phoenix UK – which told C+D it has “some stock” at present – said there is “no preferential treatment for Rowlands pharmacies”. 

An AAH spokesperson told C+D earlier this week (April 21) that “limited stocks of masks arrived at AAH from DHSC just before the Easter weekend”, adding that “the supply was lower than the amount needed to meet all our customer requirements”.

“We set aside up to one box per pharmacy for regular customers in England – including Lloydspharmacy,” the spokesperson said.

Alliance Healthcare had also been supplied with a “very limited stock” and limited supplies to one box per pharmacy, delivering on a “first come, first served basis subject to availability”, a spokesperson told C+D earlier this week (April 21).

A spokesperson for Phoenix UK told C+D on April 21 that “all our customers are being treated equally and there is no preferential treatment for Rowlands pharmacies”.

They specified in an updated statement to C+D yesterday (April 23) that “it is anticipated that pharmacies will order from their usual wholesale supplier to ensure a managed distribution across the country”.

“Pharmacies with a Phoenix solus or access account who need PPE supplies should speak to their main wholesaler account manager,” they added.

Out of stock

A Royal Pharmaceutical Society survey that ran between April 14-20 and received 445 replies found that one in three pharmacists still cannot get continuous supplies of PPE.

Stuart Nicholls, superintendent pharmacist at Marden Pharmacy in Marden, Kent told C+D on April 21 that he was not able to place orders with the three wholesalers, as their online platforms “showed they were out of stock”.

He was, however, able to get hold of a box of PPE, which includes gloves, masks and aprons, through the national supply disruption line. 

Rifat Asghar-Hussain, superintendent pharmacist of Evergreen Pharmacy and Green Cross Pharmacy in Birmingham, told C+D that she was able to source stock from wholesalers for one of her two branches.

“They went out of stock literally within a day at most,” she told C+D on April 21. 

Ellie Bennett, managing director at Wicker Pharmacy in Sheffield told C+D that when she last checked face masks’ availability on April 22, Phoenix was the only wholesaler with some in stock. 

A pharmacy contractor in the east of England, who wishes to remain anonymous, tried to source PPE through the national supply disruption line, which any healthcare provider in need of an urgent supply of PPE can use. Unfortunately, they were told they would not be able to receive any.

The contractor told C+D on Wednesday (April 22) that they might not have enough PPE for their whole team by today (April 24).

“We're coming to work. We're trying to make a difference. I'm worried for my patients, I'm worried for my team and it causes me sleepless nights. 

“I've had 25% of my team off due to isolation, shielding… and we've got great workload, [which] is putting a strain on the team,” they added. 

Did you manage to order enough face masks for your team?

Mohammed Khan,

1-2 weeks ago the government made available PPE masks at a vastly reduced price of £7.50 per box of 50. This supply was given to the key mainliners (Alliance, AAH, Phoenix) for distribution, £7.50 being the agreed distribution cost for the govt supply. I have called each of the wholesalers who have advised 'sorry, all gone, first come, first served'

The govt have made provision for a box to be issued to each community pharmacy, the wholsalers have taken on the responsibility of distributing to community pharmacy - why then is this on a first come, first serviced basis? Why was this not managed to ensure a fair share amongst community pharmacies and their staff?

I would assume the community pharamcies associated with these wholesalers (Boots, Lloyds & Rowlands) had their PPE allocation immediately

I also know of one independent multiple group where Phoenix served them 5 boxes per shop & instances where priority for PPE distribution was given to Numark members 

It's very disappointing at a time of PPE shortages for front line staff the UK's largest wholesalers have mismanaged quotas of PPE meant for Pharmacy staff who are both key workers and front line workers and are, therefore, at risk  

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Given that scientific opinion is that masks don't stop you getting it but might help you to stop spreading it, until every person that comes in here is wearing a mask I'm not going to. This should NOT be a one-way thing.

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

I call these advice from these so-called ''scientific advisors'' utter BS. This country is on the track to have the highest number of cases and death rate in Europe becuase of its arrogance, ignorance and defiance on mass face masks wearing since start, and spreading fake news that they do not help, which in reality, they DO. Open your eyes and look around the world. All those countires who managed the pandemic well have strict face masks wearing rules and/or culture. 

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

And have you seen how the people are wearing their masks? Massive gaps all round the edges and lets face it, a couple of layers of bog roll which is effectively what face masks are (remember that surgical face masks are designed to prevent the surgeon infecting the patient not the other way round) is not going to stop a virus getting through. Why should I suffer the facial sores from wearing a mask all day just to protect the customers who can't be arsed to wear one to protect me?

We are on track to have the highest number of cases and death rate because we have the hghest population density. Look at the curves - London, Midlands (Birmingham, Coventry) Northwest (Liverpool, Manchester) loads of cases, southwest (mostly moorland and sheep) very few cases (and before all of the people in the southwest start on me, count yourself lucky you live in a beautiful and safe part of the country).

Anyway, Mr ABD DEF, I hope you are teaming up your no-doubt state of the art, full filtration facemask with a nice pair of tight goggles because these little buggers can get in through the eyes as well!

Strangely enough, one of the facemask wearing countries also has a totalitarian regime which has misinformed and spread fake news from the start which is the main reason we are in the state we are isn. What I call BS is China's claim to only have 3000 deaths in a country of nearly 1.4 billion. If you believe that as truth, thats why you believe face masks work to stop you getting it.

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

While I do reckon China's figures and information are complete and utter BS with coverups, we should be looking at the figures and strategies in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea whose residents have mass mask-wearing cultures and have handled the pandemic extremely well. Look at Singapore, whose Prime Minister has been arrogant and ignorant enough and repeatedly discouraged mass face mask wearing, and as a consequence they have seen recent surges in confirmed cases, forcing him to take back what he has said.

I don't know why you people are so reluctant to wearing face masks. Is it simply because of the BS from our scientific advisors who have literally ZERO experience and incompetent in tackling pandemic at this scale, and the BS advice from WHO who is obviously pro-China and speak for them? And as the idiom says ''You can never be too careful'' so why not do something extra to for the sake of yourself (and your family) especially when we are working in high-risk environments facing potentially infectious but symptomless patients every single day? Let me remind you there is no so-called scientific evidence proving they will work, but there is ALSO NO evidence proving they don't either. 

But anyway the choice is yours and I cba to care that much if you insist on your views. But let me remind you what BoJo has said ''I must level with the British public – many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time'' so perhaps you should be prepared for it.


Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Aren't we Mr Cheery?

Families lose loved ones all of the time regardless of covid. It's filed under shit happens. My mum had a friend just die suddenly, not of covid, who was unable to see any of her family for the last six weeks of her life and died alone because of lockdown, so don't lecture me (just seen your job title - that explains a lot) about proof or otherwise of mask use. I have my opinions, you have yours. Mutual respect of that goes a long way.

Oh and incidentally, it's impossible to PROVE a negative, so if there is no proof to the positive and no proof to the negative regarding mask use, I know which one I'll be believing.

The country with the best record in handling covid is New Zealand, who did it very simply by quarantining everyone who came into the country and banned foreign travel both ways. Simple, effective, no overuse of masks, 16 deaths out of over 4 and a half million (similar to Greater Birmingham with thousands of deaths), job done, much respect Jacinda Ardern, what we should have done from the start. Like I said - population density.

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