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The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has warned that community pharmacy teams will struggle to maintain vital services for patients if NHS Test and Trace does not take into account Covid-safety measures.

Despite community pharmacies being a healthcare setting, Covid-19 contact tracers are not taking into account the current national advice on use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other measures to prevent the spread of infection.

“This has resulted in cases where one pharmacy staff member tests positive, and the whole team is then told to go into self-isolation,” PSNC said, noting that some pharmacy contractors have had difficulty registering as employers of essential workers and, currently, asymptomatic pharmacy staff asked to self-isolate cannot get tested to check if they are negative so they can return to work more quickly.

“This is all impacting on the continuity of service provision and therefore reducing patient access to essential medicines.

“PSNC is aware that in other healthcare establishments the individual circumstances of the case are considered and is seeking parity for community pharmacies.”

PSNC Director of Operations and Support, Gordon Hockey, said:  “As the Covid-19 outbreak continues it is inevitable that community pharmacy contractors will temporarily lose staff members when they are exposed to the virus and need to follow self-isolation rules. However, contractors are increasingly reporting to us that the NHS Test and Trace service is causing additional staffing pressures by suggesting that whole teams must self-isolate.”

The negotiator has recommended key actions for community pharmacy contractors on NHS Test and Trace following increasing reports that contractors are experiencing issues with the service.

If one member of staff tests positive and the pharmacy is contacted by a contact tracer and the pharmacist is not satisfied with the decisions made, PSNC recommends that contractors should escalate the case to the Public Health England (PHE) local health protection team. They should ask for the same mitigations to be taken into account as for any other healthcare establishment and involve the NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) regional team or local office.

If these approaches are not successful, then there may need to be regular testing of pharmacy staff to ensure all do not have to self-isolate when one tests positive.

The PSNC is concerned that the community pharmacy network may not be able to continue to assure the supply of medicines to patients if all pharmacy staff asked to self-isolate every time one member of staff tests positive for Covid-19.

“We are liaising with NHSE&I and PHE to discuss the ongoing issues with NHS Test and Trace and are pushing for more guidance to be released to address the situation,”  the pharmacy negotiator said.

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