Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed that healthcare staff who are contacted by NHS track and trace will not have to self-isolate if the correct PPE has been worn.

In Covid-19 management of staff guidance, updated today, PHE said that ‘healthcare workers must-isolate if the NHS test and trace service advises you to do so.’ However, ‘close contact excludes circumstances where PPE is being worn in accordance with current guidance on infection, prevention and control.’

A pharmacy team member who is contacted by a contract tracer will not have to self-isolate if it is decided between the tracer and the staff member that the correct PPE  was worn during the interaction, a PHE spokesperson told the Pharmacist.

According to government guidance, pharmacy teams should 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.’

The guidance currently says nothing about pharmacy teams wearing face masks around patients and staff without symptoms.

This update comes following weeks of growing concern amongst pharmacists and pharmacy bodies. The sector expressed worries that pharmacies may have to close for weeks at a time each time an infected person entered the pharmacy.

Pharmacy teams may have a greater chance than average of being in contact with people with Covid-19 symptoms, and, therefore, of being required to self-isolate as a result of contact tracing.

Last week a DH spokesperson told the Pharmacist that Pharmacy team members in England who wear the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) will not be considered to have come into contact with someone infected with Covid-19 and will not have to self-isolate.

However, until now there has been no confirmation of healthcare staff exemption to the service on any government websites.

Yesterday, a member of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Independent SAGE) said that the government should be prepared to financially support any community pharmacies that are forced to shut down premises’ because their staff are required to self-isolate through the new test, track and trace system. 

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

Since April, after PHE’s PPE stockpile ran dry, the price of protective face masks at wholesalers have risen dramatically. Boxes of the government-recommended fluid repellent face masks supplied by pharmacy wholesalers increasing in price by as much as 387.5% in some cases.

Earlier this month, it was announced that community pharmacy will miss out on the government’s latest personal protective equipment (PPE) supply arrangement after it was decided that the sector will not be given access to the next rollout phase of the new PPE Portal.