Open access article
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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People visiting pharmacies should wear face coverings to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.
The recommendation follows government guidance that all visitors to non-COVID-19 secure areas of hospitals should wear a face covering.
A spokesperson for the DHSC told The Pharmaceutical Journal that the guidance for hospitals came into effect on 15 June 2020, from which time anyone “in any other enclosed public spaces, such as on public transport and within GP surgeries or pharmacies” should also wear a face covering.
The spokesperson added that this was “an important step in reducing the spread of the virus amongst staff, patients and visitors”.
Guidance published by the government on 5 June 2020 said that from 15 June 2020, outpatients and visitors to hospitals should wear face coverings “to prevent the spread of infection from the wearer”. However, the guidance made no mention of primary care sites.
On 9 June 2020 the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) called on the government to extend this across primary care and other healthcare sites. As part of that call, Sandra Gidley, president of the RPS, said it was “vital that there is consistency in the use of face coverings across primary care, as well as hospital settings, to provide maximum protection from the virus and avoid confusion”.
Responding to DHSC’s comments, Ravi Sharma, RPS director for England, said: “RPS has been calling for this guidance to be extended and so we are pleased to see this recognition that guidance on face coverings now extends to pharmacies and GP practices. It is essential that the government ensures that this is communicated very clearly to the public, explaining what type of facing covering is useful and how to wear it to best effect.
“Pharmacy teams are on the frontline seeing patients. Alongside personal protective equipment and social distancing, encouraging people to wear face coverings when visiting community pharmacies and general practice will help further protect staff and patients.”
NHS England and Improvement wrote to primary care contractors, including community pharmacies, on 9 June 2020, referencing the hospital guidance and indicated that new primary care guidance would be published. None has yet appeared.
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee issued its own advice on 15 June 2020 to community pharmacy contractors that they should “consider whether to follow the guidance issued to hospital staff in non-clinical situations, as well as the advice for visitors to wear face coverings”, adding that “patients and the public should be encouraged to wear a form of face covering, to prevent the spread of infection from the wearer”.