Pharmacy staff should wear masks if they cannot keep two metres away from colleagues, new guidance says

Public Health England’s guidance does not recommend the use of gloves or aprons as personal protective equipment in community pharmacies.

Face masks used in a pharmacy

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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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The new guidance, published on 2 April 2020 by Public Health England, states: “If social distancing of two metres is maintained, there is no indication for PPE [to be used] in a pharmacy setting”

New guidance for pharmacists working during the COVID-19 pandemic says they should wear fluid-resistant surgical masks (FRSM) if they cannot distance themselves by two metres from anyone else in the pharmacy.

This advice supersedes guidance issued to pharmacies as part of NHS England’s standard operating procedures (SOP), which were most recently updated on 22 March 2020.

The SOP says: “Personal protective equipment (PPE) is only required for close patient contact, within two metres,” adding: “There are few occasions where it is expected that staff will be required to wear PPE in the pharmacy setting.”

However, the new guidance, published on 2 April 2020 by Public Health England (PHE), states: “If social distancing of two metres is maintained, there is no indication for PPE [to be used] in a pharmacy setting. If social distancing is not maintained though direct care is not provided, sessional use of FRSM is recommended.”

The guidance does not recommend the use of aprons or gloves in any situation in community pharmacy.

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the updated guidance would increase the need for PPE in pharmacies, which is already in short supply.

“The revised PPE guidance means that in most pharmacies, where there is a lack of space to allow team members to keep two metres apart, staff should now wear FRSM on a sessional basis,” he said.

“Pharmacy teams consequently need additional stocks of PPE from the PHE stockpile and we have asked the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) to organise this. We know colleagues at DHSC and NHSE&I are now working on getting stocks of PPE to pharmacy teams as quickly as possible.”

In March 2020, all community pharmacies in England were sent one box of PPE products, including masks, aprons and gloves.

A spokesperson for NHS England said they expected this guidance to be reflected the next time the SOP for pharmacies was updated.

Following the publication of PHE’s guidance, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society updated its guidance on PPE on 3 April 2020. It says: “We continue to hear that pharmacists and their teams (in all settings) are struggling to obtain adequate supplies of PPE. This is unacceptable and we will continue to fight for more supplies to be provided to keep pharmacy teams (and the people they serve) safe.

“We are lobbying government and the NHS to prioritise supplies to pharmacies; in the meantime, check supplies through pharmacy wholesalers.”


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, April 2020;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207878