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Wholesalers have “almost completely run out” of the personal protective equipment (PPE) supplied by Public Health England (PHE) for distribution to community pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic, the wholesaler trade body has warned.
In a statement published on 29 April 2020, the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) said it was waiting for an announcement of further supplies from PHE, with pharmacies instead advised to contact their local resilience forum (LRF) for the recommended fluid-resistant (Type IIR) surgical masks.
The statement comes after a survey by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society revealed that one in three pharmacists have been unable to access continuous supplies of PPE.
On 9 April 2020, three wholesalers — AAH Pharmaceuticals, Alliance Healthcare and Phoenix — received supplies of PPE from the government reserve.
However, AAH Pharmaceuticals, which said at that time it had received “limited stocks” of masks, told The Pharmaceutical Journal in a statement on 30 April 2020 that it has “run out of the [government] stock”.
“We are working with the HDA to understand when new stocks will be released, and how regularly thereafter, to ensure that all community pharmacies have access to the protective equipment that they need,” it said, adding that the company is sourcing masks through its own suppliers and expects these to be available “in the next couple of weeks”.
Alliance Healthcare said it also “does not have any of the PHE-supplied stock available” but added that it does have “limited stock available” from other sources, with further deliveries anticipated in May 2020.
The third wholesaler, Phoenix, would not comment on its current PPE supply.
The HDA’s statement said it wanted “the community pharmacy sector to be aware that the stocks of PHE PPE masks recently supplied by the association’s member wholesalers to pharmacies, for staff use only, have now almost completely run out”.
It added that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had advised the trade body that PPE supplies were directed to LRFs “to help distribute stock to organisations outside of the NHS supply chain who have the highest need clinically, and other services that would have a high priority need for PPE, including pharmacists”.
Martin Sawer, executive director of HDA, said the amount of PPE available to wholesalers from sources outside of PHE was “not huge volumes at all and it varies a lot by wholesaler”.
When asked whether sourcing PPE in this way would meet demand, Sawer said: “The HDA does not believe so currently, but the situation is very fluid as production sites globally open up again.”
However, he added: “I do believe that PHE and the DHSC, and others, are prioritising PPE procurement for the UK.”
In a statement on its website, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) told community pharmacies that are running out of PPE to contact their LRF for more supplies.
Simon Dukes, chief executive of PSNC, said the HDA’s comments show “just how critical the national PPE situation is becoming”.
“It is putting the safety of community pharmacy staff at risk, which is quite simply unacceptable,” he said, adding that he would highlight to government “the absolute imperative that our staff are protected”.