Instead, contractors should ask their team to give the details of the pharmacy to the contact tracer, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) wrote in its test and trace guidance, updated earlier this week (October 12).
This is because any name given to test and trace is automatically registered on its system, without prior assessment to decide if they are close contacts of the infected person, PSNC added.
It is for the Public Health England (PHE) local health protection team to “assess whether there have been any recent close contacts in the pharmacy”, according to the PSNC guidance.
But it is harder for the PHE team to update the system after the contact details of pharmacy staff have already been shared with test and trace – if it then finds that those “pharmacy colleagues are not close contacts of the individual” after all, the negotiator explained.
Prevent pharmacy closures
Gordon Hockey, director of operations and support at PSNC told C+D earlier this week (October 13) that staff sharing the name of their pharmacy rather than their colleagues with test and trace if they test positive for COVID-19 would “facilitate the appropriate risk assessment of pharmacies and this may help to prevent unnecessary pharmacy closures”.
According to the PSNC guidance, contractors could be approached directly by the local health protection team and asked to share information “about contacts during the staff member’s infectious period and [to] consider whether any of these contacts have been recent close contacts”.
Use of PPE not a safety guarantee
Contractors should still ensure that the local health protection team considers contact tracing cases in their pharmacy and should escalate cases to the team if it does not get in touch with the pharmacy, the guidance stated.
PSNC also reiterated the importance of adopting measures to make their pharmacy COVID-secure, such as enforcing social distancing and using personal protective equipment (PPE).
However, contractors should “recognise that if one staff member tests positive, sometimes other staff may still be close contacts and asked to self-isolate depending on the local health protection team assessment”, it added.
Mr Hockey told C+D that PHE accepts that staff are sufficiently protected from infection only when they wear PPE during patient interactions, which are “generally of short duration”.
Local health protection teams “will evaluate the effectiveness of PPE with the other measures the pharmacy has adopted to prevent transmission of coronavirus, and the working environment,” Mr Hockey said.
This includes looking at “the size of the dispensary and the proximity of staff working” and means there will be instances where “some pharmacy staff will be asked to self-isolate if a member of staff tests positive”, he added.
PSNC’s guidance was updated following discussions it held with NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) and PHE.
Mr Hockey said last week (October 7) that pharmacy owners had flagged concerns over test and trace “causing staffing pressures by suggesting that whole teams must self-isolate”.
PSNC and other industry bodies sent a letter to pharmacy minister Jo Churchill last week (October 9) to raise the issues reported by pharmacy teams, warning that “some contact tracers are classifying pharmacies as retail settings, rather than healthcare establishments”.
If this continues, patients risk being unable to access “their medicines because of widespread temporary (two-week) pharmacy closures”, the letter said.