LloydsPharmacy has told team members they must ‘continue to serve customers as normal’, even if they are not wearing a face mask and refuse to do so.

In a letter sent out to all LloydsPharmacy staff on Tuesday (14 July) seen by the Pharmacist, the chain made it clear that although face coverings will be mandatory in pharmacies across England from 24 July, staff will not be expected to enforce the new law.

The letter said that staff will be expected to use their ‘professional and clinical judgement’ when confronted with patients not wearing masks to avoid ‘any confrontation with customers’.

If a patient enters the pharmacy without a face covering the member of staff must first ask the patient to put on some covering ‘for the protection of colleagues and other customers.’ If they do not have a covering, staff members may discuss purchasing masks from the pharmacy with the patient, the letter said.

If the patient does not have a mask, refuses to buy one from the store or refuses to wear one, the member of staff must continue to serve the customer while maintaining other social distancing precautions, it added

‘Lives at risk’

The Pharmacist spoke to three pharmacists, who wished to remain anonymous, about the new guidance. One, who currently works for Lloyds, said they supported the policy. They said: ‘I’ve got some patients who wouldn’t be able to afford a mask. I’m not going to start refusing patients their drugs because they aren’t wearing or can’t afford a face covering.’

‘Patients haven’t been wearing face coverings for months and it hasn’t caused any issues for us. I’m not going to start enforcing this new rule now, a rule which should have been brought in months ago,’ they added.

Another pharmacist commented on the ethical issues surrounding the new guidance. They said: ‘On one hand, how could a pharmacist refuse to serve a patient who is unable to obtain or perhaps afford a mask? On the other, if staff do not refuse to serve the person as a matter of policy, does this allow the person to put staff and other patients at risk?’

A locum pharmacist said they feared that this new policy will put LloydsPharmacy teams’ ‘lives at risk’ for the sake of ‘profit’.

‘Pragmatic approach’

Jonathan Burton, a community pharmacist in Scotland - where the policy has already been in place for a week - accepted the policy as a 'pragmatic approach’.

Pharmacists ‘are not the police’, and therefore should not be responsible for ensuring the public follow the guidance, he said.

There is mounting evidence to suggest that the use of face coverings can reduce the spread of coronavirus and the new rule will apply to all retail premises, including supermarkets. The government has already made face coverings compulsory for all NHS staff, visitors and outpatients in hospitals and on public transport last month.

Yesterday (15 July), health secretary Matt Hancock announced in the House of Commons that anyone not wearing face coverings in pharmacies from 24 July risks facing a £100 fine, in line with the sanction applied to public transport.

If people are seen not wearing masks and refuse to comply when asked to wear one, shopkeepers have the right to refuse them entry and to call the police, he said.

Until now, customers have not had to wear masks inside pharmacies and community pharmacy teams have been advised by Public Health England (PHE) to only wear fluid repellent surgical face masks (FRSM) when they are ‘working in an area with possible or confirmed case(s) and unable to maintain 2 metres social distance.’

‘Restructuring process’

Last week, LloydsPharmacy told staff it will soon begin a restructuring process that could result in redundancy for some employees.

Toby Anderson, CEO of McKesson UK, outlined potential plans to restructure the business, required to protect the company’s long-term future after facing ‘increased costs’ and a ‘reduction in income,’ which have only been exaggerated by Covid-19 pressures.

Earlier this month, LloydsPharmacy and online food delivery company, Deliveroo, partnered up to launch a new service that offers delivery of over the counter medicines to patients’ doors in under half an hour.