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The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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In a letter to community pharmacy teams, NHS England confirmed that “NHS staff are subject to the same test and trace protocols as all other members of the public”.
This includes self-isolating for 14 days if contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service, following “close contact” with a person with COVID-19.
But it adds that close contact “excludes circumstances where personal protective equipment (PPE) is being worn”.
NHS Test and Trace began in England on 29 May 2020 and is designed to isolate new infections and give an early warning if levels of the virus are increasing.
However, pharmacy leaders warned that the Test and Trace scheme may lead to temporary pharmacy closures and called for “greater clarity” on how the measures would be applied to healthcare workers.
The letter, sent on 9 June 2020, says: “Where a member of NHS staff tests positive for coronavirus, the starting point is that the Test and Trace self-isolation rules apply as anywhere else, and close contacts must self-isolate if the NHS test and trace service advises them to do so.”
It adds that although this “may be challenging”, the Test and Trace scheme “is an important part of our collective response to the pandemic”.
“It is, therefore, vital to ensure that NHS organisations have robust processes in place to support the timely reporting and management of COVID-19 outbreaks,” it says.
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that she has “heard about two pharmacies” having to close as a result of the Test and Trace scheme, although she would not specify which two they were.
To prepare for potential staff absences, NHS England’s letter advised pharmacies to review their business continuity plans and ensure ‘buddying’ arrangements are in place with another local pharmacy “to maintain patient access to services”.
It added that staff in primary care settings will be required to wear a surgical face mask “when not in PPE or in a part of the facility that is COVID-secure” from 15 June 2020.
This builds on a similar announcement made by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, on 5 June 2020 that related to staff and visitors working in hospital settings.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said in a statement on its website on 10 June 2020 that it was in talks with NHS England and Public Health England “to clarify what this will mean for those working in community pharmacy”.
On 8 June 2020, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society had called for the requirement for face coverings to be extended across primary and secondary care to “provide maximum protection” against the virus.