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PDA say health & safety must be priority after Community pharmacists raise concerns over instructions to avoid test and trace rules

The PDA Union is hearing from employed pharmacists at several multiples who have been instructed by their employers to turn off the NHS COVID-19 test and trace app when at work and worryingly some pharmacists are being told to refuse to ‘self-isolate’ if contacted by track and trace in respect of a colleague who has tested positive. This is also a significant concern for locum members who may be working in these multiples’ pharmacies.

Fri 23rd October 2020 The PDA

Increasing numbers of Community Pharmacists are raising concerns that they are being told to deviate from the government test and trace guidance to self-isolate, based on a false assumption that safety measures in every community pharmacy are as effective as in hospitals.

The PDA includes members working in every part of pharmacy practice and we know the well-established safety measures and PPE used in the hospital setting.  We also know the broad range of conditions faced by pharmacists across the community pharmacy estate. Importantly we also recognise the difference between those two environments and the need to treat each workplace appropriately.

We are clear that if a particular pharmacy has complied with standards then it may be appropriate to pause the Test and Trace app as is happening in hospitals and GP practices, however this needs to be established by the Responsible pharmacist on a case by case basis as they are not only accountable for the safe operation of a registered pharmacy, they are the ones most proximate to the issues at the pharmacy in question.

The Responsible pharmacist must first determine whether a Covid Risk assessment has been undertaken in the pharmacy and whether the measures identified to ensure the safety of patients and staff are still appropriate, that they have been implemented and that they are currently in place. Employers should have a Covid risk assessment process, in the absence of one, RPs are urged to use the PDA Covid Risk Assessment tool.

PDA members want to see pharmacies remain open for the benefit of patients as well as the pharmacy business, but the safety of pharmacy teams, their patients and the national effort to end this pandemic must take priority. If the local circumstances are such that because a colleague or patient with Covid has been in close proximity to the rest of the team that test and trace would require colleagues to isolate, in the event that appropriate Covid risk management measures are not in place, then that must happen.  Instructing colleagues to turn off the app inappropriately prevents an intervention and undermines the system.

The PDA believe that blanket instructions from head offices that take no account of local circumstances are irresponsible, dangerous and could damage the reputation of the profession. The fact that so many pharmacists feel concerned enough to contact the PDA demonstrate that they feel under undue pressure to comply with these instructions and are concerned about the consequences of standing up for safety against such commercially driven efforts to keep pharmacies open.

We would also remind employers that there could be a financial penalty in addition to any reputational damage for health businesses failing to support the national efforts to fight this pandemic:

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force in England at noon on 28 September 2020 (“Self-Isolation Regulations”). They make it an offence for an employer to knowingly allow a worker who is self-isolating to attend any place other than the “designated place” where the individual is spending their period of self-isolation (in most cases, their home) for any purpose related to the worker’s employment. Employers will be subject to a fixed penalty notice of £1,000 for the first offence, rising on a sliding scale to £10,000 for a fourth and any subsequent offences.

Pharmacists too could face personal fines of up to £10,000 if they fail to isolate when they should be doing so. Such a scenario also risks an investigation by the regulator into that individual’s conduct.

Pharmacists should continue to exercise their full duties as a responsible pharmacist and if they believe due to the risk of transmission in that pharmacy on that day requires the Test and Trace app to still be used then they should continue to do so and instruct the pharmacy team accordingly. If the pharmacist believes that they are putting themselves, their family or their colleagues in danger by failing to follow the instructions of track and trace authorities to self-isolate, then they should refuse to follow the instructions of the employer and should self-isolate.

For individual advice and support, PDA members concerned this issue can contact our service centre and if you know a pharmacist who is not yet a member of the PDA please encourage them to join us

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England; Company No 4746656.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is an appointed representative in respect of insurance mediation activities only of
The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited which is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)

The PDA Union is recognised by the Certification Officer as an independent trade union.

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