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Infectious diseases

Health and safety watchdog receives six reports of pharmacy staff contracting COVID-19

The Health and Safety Executive has received six reports of community pharmacy staff contracting COVID-19 in the workplace up until 25 July 2020, latest figures show. 

Open access article

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.

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Employers should report if “a person at work has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 attributed to an occupational exposure to coronavirus”

Community pharmacy employers have reported six cases of employees contracting COVID-19 non-fatally to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as of 25 July 2020, a written answer to parliament has revealed.

The reports from across Great Britain were made under Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) legislation, which states that employers should report if “a person at work has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 attributed to an occupational exposure to coronavirus” and if “a worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus”.

Baroness Stedman-Scott, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Work and Pensions, said HSE and local authorities had received “six notifications of COVID-19 disease (non-fatal) … between 10 April and 25 July 2020” under RIDDOR legislation from community pharmacy employers.

The figure was shared on 5 August 2020 in response to a written question from Lord Kennedy of Southwark.

In a statement on its website, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) offered its “best wishes for a speedy and full recovery” to the six staff members.

“Whilst we welcome the cases now starting to be identified in pharmacy, we reiterate our encouragement for community pharmacy employers who have not yet reported previous instances of likely exposure to coronavirus in their workplace, to do so as soon as possible,” it added. “Late reporting is better than never reporting these cases.”

The PDA had previously expressed concern over a parliamentary answer published on 2 July 2020, which said there had been no reports of COVID-19 cases in community pharmacy— either fatal or non-fatal — as of 30 May 2020, saying this was either “inconceivable, or it means that some employers have failed to meet their reporting obligations”.

The same written answer indicated 1,500 reports had been made from hospitals and more than 50 from GP practices.

In a letter to the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) on 3 August 2020, the PDA said it was “incumbent” on the GPhC to investigate the lack of “work-acquired COVID infection reporting by community pharmacy employers”.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that “pharmacy teams have gone over and beyond during this pandemic to provide care to patients.

“The safety of their teams is a key priority for our members and they have put measures in place to that effect, including risk assessments and contingency planning, and following government advice and guidelines responsibly.”

RIDDOR reporting of COVID-19 only includes cases relating to occupational exposure; there is no requirement to report cases involving members of the public.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208247

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