Community pharmacists are facing growing demand from panicked patients for face masks and hand sanitiser and are struggling to restock following the coronavirus outbreak, The Pharmacist has learned.

Patients are visiting pharmacies to buy the items in a desperate attempt to stave off the virus which has effected eight people so far in the UK.

Some are even looking to buy 100 face masks at a time, pharmacists say, and influencing other anxious patients in the pharmacy to do the same.

Amo Sohal, superintendent pharmacist at Kitsons Pharmacy in Worcester, told The Pharmacist that wholesalers are now restricting the number of face masks he can order.

‘I put in an order for 60 and only three came,’ he said.

The guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Public Health England (PHE) on preventing the spread of coronavirus is focused on good hygiene and safe food practices, not face masks.

Superintendent pharmacist and managing director of Beaminster Pharmacy in Dorset, Mike Hewitson, says he is not stocking face masks as he doesn’t believe they work and instead give people a ‘false sense of security’.

But he told The Pharmacist that he's struggling to obtain hand sanitizers after selling his last bottle today.

Ade Williams, superintendent pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol said he felt that stopping people from buying masks wasn’t going to help as people seem to be buying masks out of ‘anxiety’ and ‘fear’. Stopping the sale of masks or restricting the number is only going to panic people more.

‘We had a patient come into our pharmacy and ask for 100 masks and even after lots of persuasion he continued to demand them. Then after this, it was like everyone else in the queue behind him panicked and wanted to buy lots of face masks too,’ he said.

In response to this, Mr Williams said he had been handing out leaflets in his pharmacy to educate his patients on the importance of sanitising.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) agreed there was a ‘growing number of people’ asking pharmacists for general advice about Coronavirus, and preventative measures, with some pharmacies also seeing a growing demand in face masks from Chinese tourists to use when they return to the country.

Guidance has been produced by PHE advising health professionals, including pharmacists on how to inform and help the general public.

The NPA added: ‘We have highlighted to our members the advice supplied by Public Health England to health care professionals in primary care, which emphasises the need to identify potential cases as soon as possible and prevent the potential transmission of infection to other patients and staff’.