Open access article
Community pharmacy staff in England may be allowed to work instead of self-isolating when identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19, under new government guidelines.
However, staff must have a government letter authorising their individual exemption before returning to work, a government spokesperson has said.
On 19 July 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that frontline health and care staff, who have been advised to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app, can attend work under certain circumstances.
These circumstances include where the staff member’s absence would significantly risk patient safety.
To qualify for the exemption, staff members must be double vaccinated against COVID-19 and have a negative polymerase chain reaction test before returning to work.
They must also undertake daily lateral flow tests, with negative results, prior to starting work each day during the isolation period, and they must self-isolate when not at work.
The government guidelines advise that exemptions from self-isolation “should be made on a case-by-case basis, and only after a risk assessment by the organisation’s management”.
“This must be authorised by the organisation’s local director of infection prevention and control, the lead professional for health protection or the director of public health relevant to the organisation,” the government says.
In a statement, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said it had received confirmation from NHS England that community pharmacy is included in the new policy.
However, when asked about community pharmacy’s inclusion, a UK government spokesperson told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the new rules are “not a blanket exemption for any sector or role”.
“Decisions to inform an employer that designated critical workers are considered to have a reasonable excuse to attend work will be made by the relevant department with responsibility for the critical service.
“The employer will receive a letter from that government department informing them and telling them what steps they must follow,” they said.
The spokesperson added that unless an individual’s employer has a letter from a government department in which they are specifically named, this policy does not apply and they must self-isolate as directed.
The guidance is aimed at alleviating pressure on NHS and social care services.
In a letter sent to community pharmacies, NHS England said the new policy gives “employers the ‘right to allow’ not to ‘compel’ staff to return to work”.
“Local organisations will need to determine how to record and govern decision making to ensure appropriate application,” it added.