Families of pharmacy team members who die after contracting Covid-19 will receive life assurance coverage only in ‘exceptional circumstances,’ the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed.

The new NHS life assurance scheme - launched yesterday (27 April) - will provide bereaved family members of ‘eligible’ frontline NHS staff with a cash sum of £60,000. However, this does not automatically include pharmacy teams.

Pharmacy contractors and employees, although considered ‘an important part of the primary care frontline’, according to a spokesperson from DHSC, will only be considered as part of the scheme in ‘exceptional circumstances,’ The Pharmacist heard.

The DHSC has acknowledged that it is possible for community pharmacy staff to contract the virus in pharmacies as ‘people who visit pharmacies could have symptoms of coronavirus’.

The life assurance scheme is designed to cover the families of staff who provide direct ‘hands on’ personal care for people who have contracted coronavirus and staff who work in environments where the virus is known to be present. Eligible staff include GPs and dentists.

In response to the announcement, made by Matt Hancock, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) chairman Mark Koziol wrote to the health secretary urging that community pharmacy staff be included in those eligible for the benefit.

He said he believed it to be ‘utterly perverse and wrong if pharmacists and their teams […] were not supported by the NHS Life Assurance scheme.’

After noting that pharmacy staff have already reportedly lost their lives after contracting Covid-19, Mr Koziol said that the families of others in the sector who may also fall to this virus ‘deserve to know that they are valued and recognised by the government as much as their colleagues directly employed by the NHS’.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society's President, Sandra Gidley, noted the risk pharmacy teams take on the frontline every day.

She said: 'Pharmacists and their teams are working in exceptional circumstances and putting themselves at risk every day when they care for patients.

'We know that pharmacies are seeing a huge surge in demand as one of the few places keeping their doors open to the public.

'People may not display symptoms of COVID-19, and so it’s hard to see why the scheme should be limited to health and care environments where the virus is ‘known to be present’.

'We know that the vast majority of frontline pharmacy teams can’t maintain social distancing from staff or patients and aren’t always able to access the PPE they need.'

The scheme – which is time-limited to provide financial cover for those who died during the pandemic only – will cover frontline staff in England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are currently considering taking a similar approach.

The Pharmacist has created a tribute page for pharmacy staff who have lost their lives to the virus - for those who loved and cared for those who died to share their thoughts: find it here.