Staff wellbeing and COVID-19 testing
Staff wellbeing and COVID-19 testing
Maintaining the health and wellbeing of pharmacy team members is a high priority for pharmacy contractors and the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This page contains information on NHS support tools to assist with staff health and wellbeing, and information on how pharmacy team members can access testing for COVID-19.
Testing for COVID-19
Frontline workers, including community pharmacy staff in England, can access free testing for COVID-19, via the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) national testing service.
Testing will allow those currently unable to return to work because they or a member of their family or household have symptoms of coronavirus to know whether they do have the virus.
Further information about testing
How can pharmacy staff access a test?
Pharmacy staff who think they or one of their household are eligible for a test can apply for one via:
Accessing priority C-19 testing
Pharmacy contractors will be aware from recent media reports of the challenges the NHS Test and Trace service is currently facing, with increased demand being seen for COVID-19 tests for symptomatic individuals. PSNC has also received reports from contractors that pharmacy staff members with COVID-19 symptoms have been unable to access testing.
Community pharmacists and their staff are classed as essential workers who are prioritised for testing and employers can refer essential workers for testing if they are self-isolating because either they or members of their household have coronavirus symptoms.
They can do this by uploading the names and contact details of self-isolating essential workers to the secure employer referral portal. Referred essential workers will then receive a text message with a unique invitation code to book a test for themselves (if symptomatic) or their symptomatic household members at a testing site.
To get a login to the employer referral portal, pharmacy contractors should email email@example.com with the following information:
- organisation name
- nature of the organisation’s business
- names (where possible) and email addresses of the 2 users who will load essential worker contact details
Once employer details have been verified, two login credentials will be provided for the employer referral portal.
NHS Test and Trace
The Government announced that the NHS Test and Trace programme would commence at 9am on 28th March 2020. The announcement was followed by the publication of information on how the programme will operate.
Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and will need to share information about their recent interactions. This could include household members, people with whom they have been in direct contact, or within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes. The new guidance means those who have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms.
Updated guidance for community pharmacies
PSNC has updated its guidance on NHS Test and Trace based on recent discussions between NHS England & NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) and Public Health England (PHE).
These discussions have indicated that contractors should, in particular:
- Ensure the PHE Local Health Protection Team consider community pharmacy contact tracing cases. If the local team don’t make the initial contact with the pharmacy, contractors should escalate cases to the team, or call the team direct. This may not be necessary if a contractor is satisfied with the decision without full assessment.
- Ask pharmacy staff NOT to give their colleagues’ names to NHS Test and Trace if they test positive for coronavirus, but to provide the contact details of the pharmacy. This is because any names given will be entered automatically into NHS Test and Trace systems with no assessment of whether they are close contacts – this is difficult for the local health protection team to ‘overturn’ if its assessment finds that pharmacy colleagues are not close contacts of the individual.
- Continue to take all appropriate steps to make the pharmacy COVID-secure, so far as practicable, including social distancing, the proper use (donning and doffing) of appropriate PPE, but recognise that if one staff member tests positive, sometimes other staff may still be close contacts and asked to self-isolate depending on the PHE Local Health Protection Team assessment.
View the updated guidance in full: PSNC Briefing 022/20: NHS Test and Trace – Key points for contractors as Q&As
Contractors should also note that PSNC is awaiting a response to its letter to the Minister on the issues some community pharmacies are experiencing with NHS Test and Trace.
The NHS COVID-19 app
The long-awaited NHS COVID-19 app launched on 24th September 2020. It is being heavily promoted to members of the public, as the Government sees this as a vital part of the NHS Test and Trace service in England.
The Government is encouraging businesses and organisations, such as hospitality services, to display official NHS QR code posters at their venue entrances to help support contact tracing.
NHS COVID-19 app users will then be able to scan (check-in) as they enter a venue. This means that if people visit the venue and later test positive for coronavirus, other app users who were there at the same time may be sent an alert, if local public health teams think this is necessary.
Community pharmacies are not required to display NHS QR code posters but may do so, according to Government advice.
Government advice on which venues should display the official QR poster states that for community pharmacy:
‘Customers generally move around the space rather than congregate, and are expected, by law, to wear face coverings. QR codes are therefore not required but can be used if a community pharmacy wishes to offer this option.’
If community pharmacies provide flu vaccinations at other premises, for example, a community centre, an NHS QR code poster may need to be displayed and a log of those attending may need to be kept.
Healthcare workers should pause the NHS COVID-19 app when at work
For those who have downloaded and are using the NHS COVID-19 app, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) advises healthcare workers to pause the app while working in a healthcare building, such as a hospital or GP surgery. This includes an NHS community pharmacy. The app should also be paused if working behind a fixed Perspex (or equivalent) screen, which is big enough to provide adequate protection.
Further advice for healthcare workers can be found on the NHS website.
If healthcare workers test positive for coronavirus, NHS Test and Trace will assess whether relevant healthcare staff have been at risk of contracting coronavirus, and whether anybody else should self-isolate. Generally, these assessments are undertaken by the Public Health England (PHE) Local Health Protection Team. Accordingly, if a member of pharmacy staff tests positive for coronavirus, contractors are advised to ensure that the pharmacy’s case is managed by, or escalated if necessary, to the Local Health Protection Team for an assessment that considers the individual circumstances of the pharmacy.
Antibody testing programme
NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) is in the process of rolling out a COVID-19 antibody testing programme. Antibody testing will be open to NHS staff, including community pharmacy teams, with each NHS region managing its own arrangements. Further information will be made available in due course.
It is, however, important to note that the NHS Test and Trace guidance for healthcare workers states that a positive antibody test result does not exempt someone from the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days if they are a contact of a confirmed case. Antibody testing can only inform about previous exposure and it is currently unknown whether this leads to protection against future COVID-19 infections.
Testing for COVID-19 in pharmacies or selling test kits
Some manufacturers are selling products containing COVID-19 testing kits that allow a swab or other type of sample to be taken at home or in the pharmacy setting, followed by a very rapid result within about 10 minutes.
These tests are different from the postal kits that are being used as part of the national testing programme, whereby the swab is taken by you at home and then returned by post or courier.
The current view of Public Health England (PHE) is that use of products that give a very rapid result is not advised:
- some of these products look for virus while others look for the body’s immune response to the virus. Such tests are very rapid and can work on a range of specimens including serum, plasma or finger-prick whole blood;
- there is little information on the accuracy of these rapid point of care tests, or on how a patient’s antibody response develops or changes during COVID-19 infection. It is not known whether either a positive or negative result is reliable; and
- currently there is no published evidence about the suitability of these rapid point of care tests for diagnosing COVID-19 infection in a community setting.
GPhC advice on COVID-19 rapid antibody tests
The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has stated that it does not believe it is appropriate for COVID-19 rapid antibody tests to be sold in community pharmacies at this time.
In a letter sent to community pharmacy contractors and superintendent pharmacists, Chief Executive Duncan Rudkin outlined the GPhC’s concerns about the potential for the selling or recommendation of such antibody tests to undermine the standards and professional responsibilities of pharmacy professionals.
Whilst the UK Government, World Health Organization (WHO) and Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) remain concerned about the use and efficacy of these tests, it is strongly recommended that you ensure your pharmacy does not offer rapid antibody test kits.
Contractors are encouraged to review the updated Q&As on antibody test kits and antibody testing on the GPhC website. There is a clear expectation from GPhC that pharmacies will adhere to published guidance from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and PHE. Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians should ensure they are up-to-date with national guidance issued by Government bodies and consider the wider public health impact of supplying or advising any activity that may contribute to false assurances.
Pharmacists and their teams have been spending all of their time through this pandemic serving their patients and their communities. Amidst the pace of the days it is often too easy to forget about your own wellbeing and that of your teams. Please take some time to take care of yourselves and your teams so you can continue to take care of your patients and your communities; we hope the tools below will help you to do so.
NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) have organised a range of psychological support for all NHS staff, including those working in primary care, during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The initial offer involves free access to a number of wellbeing apps (Unmind, Headspace, Sleepio and Daylight) from now until the end of December 2020 to support healthcare workers’ mental health and wellbeing. Information on how to access this support is available on the NHS Employers website; an NHSmail email account may be required to access some of the apps. There is also support on the NHS Our People website in the form of access to helplines and apps, as well as access to short 10-20 minute online guides to help develop new skills and help improve your experience at work. They have also introduced a confidential staff support line, operated by the Samaritans, which is free to access from 7.00 am – 11.00 pm, seven days a week.
Looking after you too: coaching support for primary care staff
As part of work to ensure all staff delivering frontline primary care services feel supported to maintain their psychological wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHS has launched the #LookingAfterYouToo initiative. This is a free resource – available to all clinical and non-clinical staff working in primary care – offering individual coaching sessions with a highly skilled and experienced coach.
A ‘where to start guide’ for pharmacy staff
The NHS Specialist Pharmacy Service with London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust have developed wellbeing and accessing support during the COVID-19 pandemic – a ‘where to start guide’ for pharmacy staff. This includes resources to encourage all staff to establish good habits with respect to their wellbeing from the outset and provides some immediate ‘go-to’ strategies and information to support ongoing wellbeing during the pandemic.
Pharmacist Support resources
Pharmacist Support is the profession’s independent charity for pharmacists and their families, former pharmacists, trainees and MPharm students.
The charity’s free and confidential support includes a suite of wellbeing resources – delivered through webinars and factsheets – aimed at helping individuals identify the signs and symptoms of stress and equipping them with tools and techniques to help deal with feelings of pressure.
Pharmacist Support has now launched a campaign to help pharmacists and pharmacy students to prioritise their wellbeing. It can be difficult for pharmacy staff to find time to prioritise their own needs so the ACTNow campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of wellbeing.
The campaign encourages community pharmacy teams to:
Allow time for wellbeing
Consider needs of your colleagues
As part of the campaign, Pharmacist Support has developed a central resource hub, named the Wardley Wellbeing Hub, where you can take ACTion to manage those every day pressures and worries.
PSNC is supporting this campaign and encourages all pharmacy staff to take some time to take care of themselves if they can.