The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has launched a consultation on whether it should extend provision of free personal protective equipment (PPE) to the health and care sector beyond 31 March 2022.

The consultation, ending on 31 October, seeks views from stakeholders on whether centrally provided PPE should end as planned in March or be extended for a further 12 months.

Pharmacy teams are among the health and care professionals who could continue to be eligible for PPE.

‘Given current case levels and guidance, we expect PPE usage to remain at Covid-19 levels beyond March 2022 putting significant upward pressure on health and care costs in the next financial year,’ the Government said in the consultation document.

‘We have sufficient stock centrally to continue to support providers to meet their Covid-19 PPE needs. The department is therefore considering whether to extend the central, free provision,’ it said.

In July, it was announced that facemasks would remain compulsory in all healthcare settings in England, including pharmacies.

The Government launched an online portal in May 2020 to support primary care and social care providers with accessing PPE during the pandemic.

Access to free PPE was initially only available to general practice and small care homes, and this was later expanded to include community pharmacy in August 2020.

‘If providers were to bear the entire cost, there is a risk of non-compliance with IPC guidance if providers cannot afford the additional cost,’ the document said.

If the current arrangements do end in March 2020, contractors will then be responsible for purchasing PPE themselves.

In May this year, The Pharmacist reported that pharmacies in England had claimed a total of £18.5m in reimbursements for PPE from the Government as of 31 March 2021.