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Exclusive: 60% of pharmacies running out of masks

Around half of pharmacists are worried their pharmacy will not have enough personal protective equipment to keep staff safe over the coming weeks, with 62 per cent reporting they won’t have enough face masks to last the next seven days, a new survey suggests.

The Pharmacy Magazine survey of 232 pharmacists was conducted over the weekend of April 18-19.

While 78 per cent reported having some fluid resistant surgical masks (FRSM) – the one PPE item recommended by the UK’s public health bodies – just 38 per cent said their pharmacy had enough to last them the next seven days.

Similarly, 82 per cent said their pharmacy had gloves but only 40 per cent were confident they would have enough to last them the next week.

Almost two thirds did not have any eye protection kit, while 21 per cent said they sufficient supplies for the coming week.

Overall, 49 per cent of pharmacists were not confident their workplace would have enough PPE to keep themselves and their colleagues protected over the coming month – and just two per cent described themselves as “completely confident”.

 A number said they had made their own private arrangements to secure PPE as the NHS was failing to make enough supplies available, with some resorting to eBay and Amazon.

Pharmacists working in the multiples reported greater confidence than those working in independents. For example, 56 per cent of those working in chains said they had adequate supplies of face masks compared to 30 per cent of independents.

Confusion over guidelines

Meanwhile, 90 per cent said they were confused regarding what PPE is recommended for community pharmacy settings.

Public health guidelines currently emphasise the risk of transmission between staff and patients, but many in the sector say transmission between staff poses an equal level of risk with social distancing guidelines impossible to work to in many dispensaries.

Forty-five per cent of independents and 35 per cent of multiple pharmacists said they followed guidelines from national public health bodies, with others saying they paid greater attention to community pharmacy representative bodies.

One reported: “Many staff are refusing to use PPE as the guidance is unclear. I wear it to keep myself and those around me safe but I can’t force staff to wear it when PHE are saying they don’t need to.”

Some working in multiples reported a lack of clear head office guidance: “I am unhappy that management are quoting PHE guidance relating to PPE and not acknowledging that with inadequate supplies we may need to compromise and use visors provided instead. They have told us unofficially to use them but will not commit in writing. Specific questions to management about this are taking over 10 days to be answered.”

For some, the lack of PPE fed into a wider sense of feeling abandoned on the frontline. One pharmacist commented: “Pharmacy has been left to get on with it, with insufficient and ineffective, cheap and done in a hurry PPE.”

One said: “We can’t follow PHE – pharmacy too small for 2m working and can’t get sufficient FRSM.”

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