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In the wake of persisting Covid-19 pandemic, the NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) have issued an updated Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for community pharmacies.

Flexible opening provision, which allowed pharmacies to work for up to 90 minutes a day with their doors closed to the public, has been now been removed.

The latest SOP follows the first update released in March which provides guidance for contractors who unable to open a pharmacy or who want to apply for a change to the days or times they provide pharmaceutical services.

If a pharmacy cannot open due to unavoidable reasons then they must inform the NHSE&I regional team, who are expected help the pharmacy in ensuring provisions are put in place for patients to access alternative pharmaceutical services.

The recently introduced guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) for primary and community health care providers will remain applicable and the recommendation is for a Type l or Type ll face mask to be worn to prevent the spread of infection from the wearer, the SOP has clarified.

“If Type IIR face masks are more readily available, and there are no supply issues for their use as personal protective equipment, then these can be used as an alternative to Type I or Type II masks,” SOP has pointed out.

Mandatory requirement for the public to wear face coverings in shops, including community pharmacies, has also been added to the SOP, although subject to exemptions as it is now required by law.

The SOP has further noted the Pandemic Delivery Service initially ran for all shielded patients until July.

“However, going forwards, clinically extremely vulnerable patients in local outbreak areas will be advised on the need to shield and NHSE&I will inform community pharmacies of the areas where shielding patients are eligible for the service via letters published on their website,” according to the SOP.

The SOP has also confirmed that disposal of unwanted medicines is an essential service and has not been suspended, indicating that the risk of viral transmission from returned medicines is very low.

Pharmacy staff have been advised not to touch their face when processing returned medicines, to wear gloves and then to immediately wash their hands to minimise any potential risk of transmission.

Returned medicines should be segregated as per usual requirements, double bagged and placed directly in the appropriate waste medicines container.

Unwanted controlled drugs (CDs) should be double bagged and placed in the CD cabinet for three days before denaturing as per the usual pharmacy process.

Contractors experiencing problems with waste collection from the pharmacy should contact the NHSE&I regional team, the SOP has suggested.

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