Updated COVID-19 SOP: volunteers liability clarified and opening hours flexibility removed

Updated COVID-19 SOP: volunteers liability clarified and opening hours flexibility removed

August 11, 2020

NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) have today (11th August 2020) issued an updated Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for community pharmacies in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the first update since March, NHSE&I has removed the flexible opening provision that allowed pharmacies to close their doors to the public for up to 2.5 hours a day and clarified the indemnity/liability position of volunteers from the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS).

The updated SOP also includes information on high-risk patients – including shielding patients – detailing when and where a delivery service to shielded patients will be commissioned.

Other amendments bring the SOP in line with the latest information and guidance already available to contractors on, for example, staff risk assessments, social distancing and the use of PPE and face coverings, and cleaning and decontamination of the pharmacy.

The updated SOP is a key source of information and guidance for contractors and consolidates information and guidance already available, as well as providing new advice.

Read the SOP

New advice or changes include:

Opening hours

The flexible opening provision, which allowed pharmacies to work for up to 2.5 hours a day with their doors closed to the public, has been removed and is no longer available. The emergency regulations for use during the pandemic remain available to contractors and are outlined in the SOP.

The SOP provides guidance for contractors unable to open a pharmacy (e.g. to the unavailability of the RP or enough staff to open safely), or who want to apply for a change to the days or times they provide pharmaceutical services (e.g. due to a significant reduction in demand in location such as shopping malls).

It remains important to inform public and patients of any changes to pharmacy opening hours, for example, by updating the NHS Directory of Services (DoS), and to take appropriate steps relating to business continuity and buddy arrangements for the continued provision of pharmaceutical services in the local area (including services such as supervised consumption and monitored dosage systems).

Use of PPE and face coverings

Recently introduced guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) for primary and community health care providers remains applicable and the recommendation is for a Type l or Type ll face mask to be worn to prevent the spread of infection from the wearer. If Type IIR face masks are more readily available, and there are no supply issues for their use as personal protective equipment, then these can be used as an alternative to Type I or Type II masks. The extended use of face masks does not remove the need for other measures to help to protect staff, patients and the public and contractors should ensure that all appropriate and relevant steps continue to be taken to make the pharmacy COVID-19 secure.

The mandatory requirement for the public to wear face coverings in shops, including community pharmacies, has also been added to the SOP, although subject to exemptions, this is now required by law.

Shielded patients

The SOP explains that the Pandemic Delivery Service initially ran for all shielded patients until 31st July 2020. However, going forwards, clinically extremely vulnerable patients in local outbreak areas will be advised on the need to shield and NHSE&I will inform community pharmacies of the areas where shielding patients are eligible for the service via letters published on their website. PSNC will work with DHSC and NHSE&I to involve local LPCs before any local pandemic delivery service is commissioned.

Management of returned medicines

The SOP confirms that disposal of unwanted medicines is an essential service and has not been suspended, indicating that the risk of viral transmission from returned medicines is very low. Pharmacy staff are advised not to touch their face when processing returned medicines, to wear gloves and then to immediately wash their hands to minimise any potential risk of transmission. Returned medicines should be segregated as per usual requirements, double bagged and placed directly in the appropriate waste medicines container. Unwanted controlled drugs (CDs) should be double bagged and placed in the CD cabinet for three days before denaturing as per the usual pharmacy process. Contractors experiencing problems with waste collection from the pharmacy should contact the NHSE&I regional team.

Indemnity/liability of volunteers

The indemnity/liability position of RVS volunteers is clarified (as well as the RVS safeguarding arrangements). RVS holds public liability insurance which includes the activities of NHS volunteer responders who deliver medicines as a community response volunteer or NHS transport volunteer under the NHS Volunteer Responder scheme. Volunteers are covered by insurance when undertaking those tasks, provided they remain within the boundaries set by RVS.

There is no information on the indemnity arrangements of other volunteers involved with community pharmacy (for example, local self organised groups offering to deliver dispensed medicines to vulnerable patients) and contractors are advised to ensure that their own indemnity arrangements cover the use of involvement of any such volunteers.

The Government’s safety net indemnity scheme to support the response to the coronavirus outbreak is signposted in the SOP.

The NHSE&I guidance in the SOP supersedes any previous PSNC information on this issue.



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