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Exclusive: Government receives ‘fewer than 32’ reports of pharmacy staff contracting Covid-19

declaration of emergency

By Isabel Shaw

18 Jan 2021

Community pharmacy employers have reported less than 32 cases of employees contracting Covid-19 to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) since the pandemic began, the Pharmacist has learned.

Employers are under a legal obligation to report cases of employees who contracted or died from Covid-19 to HSE – if there is reasonable evidence to suggest they contracted the virus on the pharmacy premises.

Last week, the HSE told the Pharmacist that ‘fewer than 32’ notifications of Covid-19 from community pharmacy employers had been made between 10 April and 12 December 2020 under RIDDOR legislation.

As it stands, there have also been ‘no death notifications’ made for pharmacy employees who had contracted the virus in the pharmacy, HSE confirmed.

Last year, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) urged pharmacy teams to ‘review’ where members of their team have had the virus and to ‘properly’ report instances, when a Parliamentary answer revealed there had been no reports of Covid-19 cases among pharmacy staff.

‘It is critical that reporting has been comprehensive’

Commenting on the recent figures, Gordon Hockey, PSNC director of Operations and Support, said that the number appeared to be low ‘relative to the staffing shortages that contractors have been reporting throughout the pandemic’.

However, he said this could be explained if pharmacy team members had contracted the virus outside the pharmacy, ‘since measures have been taken from the start of the outbreak to reduce the risk of transmission within pharmacies’.

Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, stressed the importance of reporting Covid-19 cases that emerged from the pharmacy ‘not just to manage the current pandemic,’ but to help the country be ‘better prepared for future viruses’.

‘Eventually, we’ll be looking back on this pandemic, and it is critical that reporting has been comprehensive,’ he said.

‘The suggestion that, throughout this pandemic and across the entire country, there has been far less than one likely exposure to the coronavirus in the entire community pharmacy network each week, strongly suggests that some employers have failed to report exposures.

‘We encourage those employers to act and report those incidents now. It is better to report late than never.’

He added: ‘We also encourage any pharmacist who believes it is likely they were exposed to the virus in their workplace to request written confirmation from their employer that this has been reported.’

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told the Pharmacist: ‘Our members are aware of their legal obligations to report specified workplace incidents to RIDDOR, and when reports are necessary, they are made, as required by the law.

She added: ‘Our members also follow the PSNC guidance regarding staff PPE.’

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