NHS Test and Trace: Advice for community pharmacy

NHS Test and Trace: Advice for community pharmacy

October 7, 2020

UPDATE: Please see updated PSNC Briefing 022/20: NHS Test and Trace – Key points for contractors as Q&As for the latest information.

PSNC is today recommending key actions for community pharmacy contractors on NHS Test and Trace following increasing reports that contractors are experiencing issues with the service.

It seems that, despite pharmacies being a healthcare setting, COVID-19 contact tracers are not taking into account the current national advice on use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other mitigations which seek to prevent the spread of infection. This has resulted in cases where one pharmacy staff member tests positive, and the whole team is then told to go into self-isolation.

Further complications around access to testing for pharmacies have meant some contractors have had difficulty registering as employers of essential workers and, currently, asymptomatic pharmacy staff asked to self-isolate cannot get tested to check if they are negative so they can return to work more quickly. This is all impacting on the continuity of service provision and therefore reducing patient access to essential medicines.

Whilst decisions must be taken in the public interest to minimise the risk of COVID-19 spreading, it currently appears that community pharmacies are being treated differently from other healthcare settings and the importance of continuity of service is not being recognised sufficiently.

Key actions for contractors

If one member of staff tests positive and the pharmacy is contacted by a contact tracer and you are not satisfied with the decisions made, PSNC recommends that contractors:

  1. Escalate the case to the Public Health England (PHE) local health protection team – be persistent and ask for the referral, and to speak to the local health protection team.
  2. With the local health protection team, ask for the mitigations in place at the pharmacy to be taken into account as for any healthcare establishment – as, for example, a GP practice.
  3. Involve the NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) regional team or local office.

If these approaches are not successful, or for example, working in a dispensary is considered a close contact regardless of any mitigations taken, then there may need to be regular testing of pharmacy staff to ensure all do not have to self-isolate when one tests positive. It may be helpful if pharmacy staff report to Test and Trace that they work at a pharmacy, with the name of the contractor or relevant person who Test and Trace should contact.

What is PSNC doing?

PSNC is concerned that the community pharmacy network may not be able to continue to assure the supply of medicines to patients if all pharmacy staff are asked to self-isolate every time one member of staff tests positive for COVID-19. We are liaising with NHSE&I and PHE to discuss the ongoing issues with NHS Test and Trace and are pushing for more guidance to be released to address the situation.

PSNC Director of Operations and Support, Gordon Hockey, said:

​”As the COVID-19 outbreak continues it is inevitable that community pharmacy contractors will temporarily lose staff members when they are exposed to the virus and need to follow self-isolation rules. However, contractors are increasingly reporting to us that the NHS Test and Trace service is causing additional staffing pressures by suggesting that whole teams must self-isolate.

Pharmacy teams will struggle to continue to maintain vital services for patients if NHS Test and Trace does not take into account the COVID-safe measures, including the use of PPE, that have been put in place to help to prevent transmission between co-workers. PSNC is aware that in other healthcare establishments the individual circumstances of the case are considered and is seeking parity for community pharmacies.”

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