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Wear masks where distancing not possible, pharmacies told

Updated guidance from Public Health England (PHE) on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) says pharmacy workers should wear fluid resistant surgical masks when it is not possible to maintain social distancing of two metres or more - whether between patients and staff or between staff members.

The guidance was issued yesterday amid growing calls to provide health workers with more PPE and clearer advice on how and when it should be used to offer the greatest protection against Covid-19 infection.

It says that when pharmacy staff are “working in an area with possible or confirmed case(s) and unable to maintain 2 metres social distance” a surgical face mask should be worn for “sessional use” and removed when the worker leaves the healthcare setting.

Masks are not needed where it is possible to maintain appropriate social distancing, says the guidance.

According to PHE, no other forms of PPE – such as gloves, gowns, aprons or eye protection – are recommended for use in pharmacies in any circumstances.

PSNC said the new guidance recognises that as community transmission is now widespread “clinicians are more likely to see patients with the virus, some of who may have minimal or no symptoms”.

The previous advice placed much greater emphasis on health workers protecting themselves against ‘suspected’ cases.

“Despite advice to patients with Covid-19 symptoms that they should stay away from pharmacies, some people are not following that guidance and pharmacy team members are potentially being exposed to possible or confirmed cases,” said PSNC.

Reducing transmission between staff members

The new PHE guidelines have been described as offering greater clarity on how pharmacies can limit transmission between staff members.

Several respondents in a recent survey for Pharmacy Magazine/Independent Community Pharmacist spoke of the difficulty of maintaining social distancing between staff members when working together in areas such as dispensaries.

“Even though direct care may not be being provided to a patient, in these circumstances use of a fluid-resistant surgical mask is recommended,” PSNC noted of the updated advice.

PSNC said it had asked the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England & NHS Improvement to ensure that more PPE, including masks, is given to contractors “in the next few days”.

“It is important to note that while pharmacy staff may now choose to wear masks in line with the revised guidance, it is imperative that social distancing and self-isolation (where appropriate) continue to be practised and hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing, continue to be followed,” PSNC added.

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