Some pharmacists have been discouraged from wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey from the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has found.

The survey, which looked at how pharmacy employers assessed and supported safety in the workplace during the pandemic and received responses from 745 pharmacists, found 12% of pharmacy team members had been ‘actively discouraged’ from wearing PPE by their employer.

This is despite the government guidance for pharmacy teams, which says that staff must wear fluid repellent surgical masks if they are ‘working in an area with possible or confirmed cases’ and are ‘unable to maintain a two-metre social distance’.

Paul Day, Director of the PDA, told the Pharmacist that the majority of those who were advised by employers not to wear PPE were locum pharmacists.

He said this was because pharmacy locums were experiencing ‘multiple pharmacies’ and therefore ‘multiple pharmacy policies’, and so they had noticed and reported the difference.

‘Impossible to social distance’

Mr Day added that he had heard of cases of entire pharmacies not wearing PPE because the owner ‘felt like the staff were all one big family’, due to the fact they were 'working closely together’, and therefore it wasn’t necessary.

He speculated that employers had told staff not to wear PPE when stocks of the protective equipment were low and there wasn’t much available to community pharmacy.

‘If a staff member came into the pharmacy wearing PPE then everyone might want to, but many employers at the time were struggling to get hold of any - it was easier to stop people wearing it all together,’ he said.

The layout and small size of many pharmacies has also meant that is ‘almost impossible’ for staff to maintain a two-metre distance, Mr Day said.

He added: ‘The reality is everybody should have been wearing PPE if that was required to keep them safe’.

‘Limited access to PPE’

Pharmacy teams across England have struggled to obtain continual supplies of PPE throughout the pandemic, due to high demand for the products worldwide.

In April, after Public Health England’s (PHE) PPE stockpile ran dry, the price of protective face masks at wholesalers have risen dramatically. The Pharmacist reported that in some cases, boxes of the government-recommended fluid repellent face masks supplied by pharmacy wholesalers increased in price by as much as 387.5%.

Last month, NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) announced that community pharmacy wholesalers now have ‘adequate’ supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) available for pharmacy teams.

The survey also revealed that - in accordance with government guidance - 13% of pharmacists were asked to reuse PPE during the pandemic.

Back in April, when this guidance was published, a spokesperson from the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) told the Pharmacist that it was ‘not good enough for the government to tell health workers to reuse equipment’.

‘This is deadly serious and everyone putting themselves at risk on the frontline deserves proper protection.’