Face coverings and PPE in pharmacies – advice from 19th July

During yesterday’s (13th July 2021) Downing Street press briefing, the Prime Minister announced that the majority of legal restrictions will be removed from 19th July 2021, including the legal requirement to wear face coverings in shops and pharmacies.

Although face coverings will be optional and social distancing will not be legally necessary from this date, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) has highlighted in their Primary Care Bulletin (issued 8th July 2021), that current Infection Prevention Control (IPC) guidance remains in place. The IPC guidance highlights that:

  • Facemasks/coverings should be used by patients (if tolerated) and visitors when entering a care setting, which would include community pharmacies; and
  • Areas where triaging for COVID-19 is not possible for example, community pharmacies:
    • that there should be signage at entry points advising of the necessary precautions;
    • staff should maintain 2 metres physical distance with customers/service users, using floor markings, clear screens or wear surgical face masks (Type IIR) where this is not possible; and
    • patients/individuals with symptoms should be advised not to enter the premises.

The NHSE&I Standard Operating Procedure – Community Pharmacy also includes guidance on facemasks /coverings. However, with the removal of the legal restrictions from 19th July, this may be withdrawn as elements will then be out-of-date; contractors may then be asked to refer to relevant underlying guidance that remains in place.

In addition, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is reminding pharmacy owners to carefully consider the relevant guidance from governments, health and safety requirements and the GPhC’s standards for registered pharmacies, to help them ensure they continue to provide COVID-safe environments as the pandemic continues. The GPhC is also asking the public to continue to follow COVID-19 safety measures that remain in place in pharmacies to protect themselves, their communities and pharmacy staff.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) England has also issued a press release calling for mask-wearing to continue in pharmacies.

The legislative changes are therefore unlikely, in general, to make a significant difference to the way that community pharmacy contractors manage the risks to patients, customers and staff, with the risk assessments they undertake. However, contractors who are located in larger retail premises or are located within another retail business, may be subject to additional practices and policies on facemasks/coverings for customers and staff. These contractors will have to consider what is practical and sensible (and enforceable) taking into account the advice available and the safety of patients, customers and staff.

Resources supporting the latest IPC guidance including social media assets and posters for healthcare settings to use at entrances to notify visitors that they still need to wear a face covering after 19th July are available from the Public Health England Campaign Resource Centre.

Free PPE scheme for pharmacy teams

Community pharmacy teams can continue to order the free personal protective equipment (PPE) they need via the Department of Health and Social Care’s PPE portal until the end of March 2022.

Further information on PPE, staff safety and security

NHSE&I guidance: Arrangements for primary care from 19th July 2021

In the interim, as the guidance was clarified earlier for GPs than for pharmacy, the Humberside Local Medical Committee has prepared a poster for use in practices which is supported by all of the local professional representative bodies.

A joint statement from:

  • Humberside Local Medical Committees
  • Community Pharmacy Humber 
  • Local Dental Committee
  • Local Optometry Committee 

“We are all committed to ensuring the health and welfare of patients, service users and staff. We are aware of the lifting of the remaining Covid-19 legal restrictions from 19th July 2021, but we still need to act cautiously to stop the spread of the virus. The delta variant is more transmissible, and people may be contagious without knowing it. 

Face masks have helped to reduce the spread of the virus. Many people are still not yet fully vaccinated, so cutting virus transmissions is still important. 

Health premises are a higher risk environment, and we will need to maintain some control measures to keep everyone safe. We are therefore asking everyone visiting health premises to continue to wear a mask, unless they are exempt, and to observe social distancing and keep hands clean by using gel or handwashing.”

These posters have been seen in practices and are now available for use in community pharmacies should you wish to use them:

Face Masks poster July 2021