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PHE: Teams should wear face masks if pharmacy is not 'COVID-19 secure'

It is recommended but not mandatory for pharmacy teams to wear face coverings
It is recommended but not mandatory for pharmacy teams to wear face coverings

It is recommended that pharmacy staff wear face coverings if social distancing cannot be maintained, Public Health England (PHE) said in updated guidance last week (July 23).

The updated PHE guidance, was released last week (July 23), a day ahead of a new regulation making it illegal for patients in England to enter a pharmacy without a face covering, unless they are medically exempt from wearing one.

However, pharmacy staff are not legally obliged to wear a face covering, although a “local assessment may conclude” that both clinical and non-clinical staff in primary and community care should should wear one “where a COVID-19 secure environment cannot be maintained,” the PHE guidance said.

Contractors must “ensure that measures are in place so that all settings are, where practicable, COVID-secure, using social distancing, optimal hand hygiene, frequent surface decontamination, ventilation and other measures where appropriate”, according to the guidance.  

It is recommended that a “type l or type ll face mask [is] worn to prevent the spread of infection from the wearer”, but a type IIR may be used as an alternative if it is more readily available and if “there are no supply issues for their use as personal protective equipment,” PHE added.

Although the liability for wearing a mask lies with the individual, pharmacy contractor terms of service mean that a pharmacy “may refuse to provide medicines and appliances on prescription if a person commits or threatens to commit a criminal offence”, according to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).

The police are able to formally issue fines of up to £100 for failure to comply with the face mask rule but PSNC said contractors “must think carefully about the appropriateness of resorting to enforcement options”.

“If a person is not wearing a face covering, it may be difficult to determine if a relevant exemption applies, and in any event, the health needs of the patient or customer should also be considered; this is particularly relevant in healthcare settings, such as pharmacies,” it added.

Following the announcement earlier this month of it becoming compulsory for visitors to pharmacies in England to wear a face covering, multiples Lloydspharmacy and Well said they were advising teams not to actively “enforce” the rule.

What do you make of the guidance?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

So considering the layout and size of most dispensaries...wear a face mask? Also, what sort of message does it send if a healthcare provider won't wear a face mask, but expects the public to do so?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Exactly. They should title the article 'Pharmacy staff must wear face masks'. Trouble is, it's kind of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. The time for masks was right at the start of this, to help the initial control while we were open during lockdown. It seems pretty pointless five months down the line.

I've tried wearing a mask all day. I lasted about three quarters of an hour. It's downright HORRIBLE! I've adopted the policy of not wearing in the dispensary, but sticking one on whenever I have to go to the front counter. It'll be interesting to see how mask wearing goes this week when it turns hot again.


Getting Shorter, Community pharmacist

Three quarters of an hour? Seriously? I didn't think you were of the snowflake generation...

We've been wearing them for weeks now. It's not the nicest thing in the world, but necessary due to track and trace (which could easily close most pharmacies at the drop of a hat if one person gets symptoms and no PPE has been used through the day - social distancing is simply not realistic in dispensaries). And there are thousands and thousands of people who have been wearing them for their jobs for years. Adjustable back-of-the head extenders are widely available if you find them too tight or too loose as standard.

I also feel we should be setting an example for the public - whatever you may feel about the timing (politics vs healthcare vs evidence base) of their implimentation, or overall usefullness.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Tee hee. I'm no snowflake, believe me! 30 years a pharmacist proves that!.

I think in my case, the mind is willing but the flesh is weak. I do wear them whenever I'm outside the dispensary, obviously (and the not-wearing-in-the-dispensary thing is a cross team agreement - we've survived this long already), but I find that the rebreathing of my own exhalations tends to make my nose run like a tap and if I walk any distance, I'm breathing like a set of bellows. It may be a problem with the mask being too thick.

I do agree though that we should set an example, so whenever I go to the counter, I put my mask on. It's only right that if someone is wearing one for my protection, I should wear one for theirs.

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

Only four months too late!  In how many pharmacies is the dispensary of sufficient size for all staff members to maintain 2m distancing?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I have a feeling that would be none. I've certainly never worked in one.

Caroline Jones, Community pharmacist

Mmm.......pharmacies couldn’t be made COVID secure without the use of masks and remaining at least 1m apart at ALL in reality staff will need to wear masks?

As to the general public; pharmacies should be following the lead as to what GPs are doing?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I'm quite happy to follow the GP lead, i.e. hide myself away, refuse to see anyone face to face and just speak to a few people by telephone. Doesn't sound too bad compared to what we do now!

Caroline Jones, Community pharmacist

We certaining shouldn’t  be having the CPRS sent to us for a F2F consultation! We have to remember shielding staff are now back at work; totally unacceptable for large pharmacy companies to not insist patients wear masks - especially when they have installed ‘consultation’ rooms that are the size of a shoebox where not even the 1m with mitigation can be adhered to......

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