Pharmacy staff wearing a mask serves patient at Whitaker's Pharmacy in Enfield. REUTERS/Tom Jacobs

Public Health England (PHE) has advised community pharmacy teams to use face masks if they are unable to maintain social distancing of two metres.

In an updated guidance issued on Thursday (April 2), it noted that there was no need to use personal protective equipment (PPE) if a pharmacy could maintain appropriate social distancing.

PHE recommended that when working in an area with possible or confirmed COVID-19 cases, pharmacy teams should use “fluid-resistant surgical masks” but only while “undertaking duties.”

Responding to the latest guidance, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said since some people were not following government advice that they should stay away from pharmacies, pharmacy staff were “potentially being exposed to possible or confirmed cases.”

It advises pharmacies that are unable to adhere to social distance of two meters due to space constraints to encourage their staff to use a fluid-resistant surgical mask.

The latest PHE guidance follows days of outcry led by various pharmacy organisations who called for a revised guidance on the use of PPE in community pharmacy.

While some contractors have paid out of pocket to ensure their teams had the kits to protect themselves against the deadly spread of the virus, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association warned, earlier in the week, that businesses must provide their staff with adequate PPE as part of their health and safety obligations.

On Wednesday (April 1), the PDA wrote: “The pandemic presents a risk to the physical health of everyone, including pharmacists and particularly those who may be at a higher risk due to an underlying health condition. The pandemic and the extraordinary measures that have been introduced have also taken everyone far away from “normal life” which also represents a risk to people’s mental health.

“The PDA are therefore reminding employers that they have a strict legal duty to protect the health and safety of their staff at work and this extends beyond simply relying upon a government process.”

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