Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

This page provides information on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use of PPE in community pharmacies

Public Health England’s (PHE) updated guidance on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), published on 2nd April 2020, now recommends use of fluid-resistant surgical masks in pharmacies when working in an area with possible or confirmed cases and where pharmacy teams are unable to maintain 2 metres social distance. The guidance for community pharmacy staff is included in Table 3 of the guidance –  Recommended PPE for ambulance, paramedics, first responders and pharmacists.

Read the RPS guidance on use of PPE in pharmacies

The updated guidance reflects the fact that coronavirus is now widespread in the community, meaning clinicians are more likely to see patients with the virus, some of whom may have minimal or no symptoms. Despite advice to patients with COVID-19 symptoms that they should stay away from pharmacies, some people are not following that guidance and pharmacy team members are potentially being exposed to possible or confirmed cases.

In many pharmacies it is also not possible for staff to maintain a social distance of 2 metres, so even though direct care may not be being provided to a patient, in these circumstances use of a fluid-resistant surgical mask is recommended.

The revised guidance is in line with a request made by PSNC and we have asked the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England & NHS Improvement to ensure that more PPE, including masks, will be supplied by PHE to contractors as soon as possible.

It is important to note that while pharmacy staff may now choose to wear masks in line with the revised guidance, it is imperative that social distancing and self-isolation (where appropriate) continue to be practised and hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing, continue to be followed.

Supplies of PPE to community pharmacies

Following discussion with PSNC, DHSC and NHSE&I worked with Public Health England (PHE) to send free of charge packs of PPE to pharmacies in mid-March; the packs contained 50 masks, 200 aprons and 100 pairs of gloves.

If pharmacies did not receive their PPE packs, or if the pack delivered was incomplete, they should contact the National Supply Disruption line (which operates 24/7) on 0800 915 9964 or email

Following the publication of updated guidance on use of PPE, PSNC is pressing DHSC and NHSE&I to ensure that pharmacy teams have access to the PPE they need from the PHE stockpile.

Expiry dates of PHE provided PPE

PHE have confirmed that the expiry date on some PPE has been extended after they and NHS Supply Chain worked with manufacturers and independent testing houses to formally test certain products using accelerated age testing, to see if it was possible to extend their life. The products that passed these tests were subject to relabelling with a new shelf-life as appropriate and can continue to be used. All products that are not up to standard within the PHE stockpile will be destroyed.

The NHS’s stockpiled PPE is checked as part of the stock management process operated through the NHS Supply Chain. This means rotating stock to make sure that items which have been there the longest are issued first.

Some products may appear to have out-of-date ‘use by/expiration’ dates or have relabelled ‘use by/expiration’ dates. Please be assured products being issued have passed stringent tests that demonstrate they are safe. The PPE is exposed to extreme conditions for prolonged periods, to see how the product deteriorates. All that are not up to standard are destroyed and not distributed to trusts.

We have been working with independent test facilities and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who, after being provided with scientific evidence, were content with our assessment that these are safe to use by NHS staff.

Source: Guidance on supply and use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (20th March 2020, NHSE&I)

NHSE&I/PHE updates on PPE

Personal Protection Equipment: letter from Stephen Powis, Yvonne Doyle and Carrie MacEwen

PHE COVID-19: infection prevention and control guidance

Installing protective screens in pharmacies

Social distancing, alongside installation of bollards/tapes, physical barriers or screens is considered to be the most effective way of protecting pharmacy staff. PSNC recommends that contractors do install screens on medicines counters, wherever this is possible.

To support the installation of such barriers, NHSE&I is making a £300 payment to all pharmacies, except distance-selling pharmacies. The payment will be made automatically to all contractors (bar distance selling pharmacies) and it is expected to be paid by the NHSBSA in the payment which will be made on 1st May 2020.

PSNC had been pressing NHSE&I to recognise the costs of installing protective barriers for pharmacy staff in the additional funding we are seeking for contractors to help them cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Some contractors are reporting high prices for protective screens, but many have been able to source these at reasonable prices and sometimes on a cost-only basis from suppliers looking to support the NHS through the pandemic.

Personal Safety

During the current outbreak, there have been reports of security incidents at community pharmacies, including a very few where those attending a pharmacy have been abusive to staff.

Therefore, while you may be tempted to try – for very short periods – to operate community pharmacies with a pharmacist alone due to staff having to leave unexpectedly, PSNC would urge you not to do so and to always ensure there is a minimum of two pharmacy staff the premises at all times.

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