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Pharmacy staff told to re-use PPE amid shortages

By Isabel Shaw

20 Apr 2020

Pharmacy staff have been told to treat potential Covid-19 patients with pre-used facemasks.

Public Health England (PHE) has published new guidance on the usage of personal protective equipment (PPE) when ‘in short supply’.

The temporary guidance produced on Friday applies only for ‘urgent or emergency face-to-face contacts’ in a ‘health and social care setting’.

Fluid repellent masks can be re-used

The guidance says that fluid repellent surgical face masks (FRSM) – which pharmacy staff are currently advised to use – can be re-used if they have elastic ear hooks, but not if they are tie-on. In between uses they should be stored correctly and clearly marked with the person’s name.

It does not recommend the re-use of gloves, although PHE doesn’t directly recommend pharmacy staff use gloves as a form of PPE.

PHE said that changes had been made to PPE guidance to ‘ensure that health and care workers are appropriately protected from Covid-19, where items of PPE are unavailable and should be considered as temporary measures until the global supply chain is adequate to meet the UK’s needs.’

The guidance also made note of the ‘exceptional circumstances’ that have promoted these measures, and that the changes ‘do not reflect the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) standard approach’. HSE expects Trusts to have an agreed action plan to support implementation which includes a consideration of all measures to manage usage effectively.’

‘It’s not good enough’

A spokesperson from the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) told The Pharmacist: ‘It’s not good enough for the government to tell health workers to re-use equipment. This is deadly serious and everyone putting themselves at risk on the frontline deserves proper protection.’

‘Senior politicians and officials have said they will do whatever it takes to keep pharmacy staff safe. But it’s clear that many pharmacists are still struggling to get hold of face masks in the quantities needed,’ they added.

Director of Pharmacy at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Robbie Turner, said: ‘Pharmacists and pharmacy teams deserve to be properly protected with the highest quality of Personal

Protective Equipment (PPE) during the Covid-19 pandemic. But these unprecedented times mean stocks of such equipment are limited throughout healthcare.’

‘It is better to have some form of protection than nothing at all’

He added: ‘In line with guidance from Public Health England, if the only form of protection is a facemask that appears to be past its use by date, then we support the use of this equipment. It is better to have some form of protection than nothing at all.

‘However, pharmacists should only consider this as a last resort when new supplies of PPE are not available. They should check that there is no visible damage and ensure adequate reprocessing procedures before re-using face masks.’

This announcement comes after Matt Hancock said at the health and social care committee meeting on Friday that there was a huge global demand for PPE and added that he wasn’t sure when current shortages would end.

‘I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and have PPE fall from the sky in large quantities,’ the health and social care secretary told the committee.

‘But given that we have a global situation in which there is less PPE in the world than the world needs it’s going to be a huge pressure point.’

So far 50 NHS workers, including at least two community pharmacy members of staff, have now died after contracting coronavirus.

Meanwhile, community pharmacy staff in England can now be referred to be tested for Covid-19.

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