A recent PDA survey has found that 4 in 10 community pharmacists who caught COVID-19 believe they caught it at work. As community pharmacy employers are yet to report a single case of an employee likely catching the virus at work, this raises serious questions as employees have a legal requirement to report such instances to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
While the nation has been in lockdown, there can be no doubt that pharmacists’ most significant exposure to people from outside their households has been patients and colleagues in their workplace. It is undeniable that community pharmacy is a high contact environment with at least one pharmacy multiple among employers taking part in a government study to evaluate the effectiveness of asymptomatic COVID-19 testing in such situations.
The PDA believe that it is inconceivable that this lack of reporting reflects the true situation.
It is a HSE requirement to report cases of COVID-19 as exposure to a biological agent. The guidance states:
“If there is reasonable evidence that someone diagnosed with COVID-19 was likely exposed because of their work you must report this as an exposure to a biological agent using the case of disease report. An example of a work-related exposure to coronavirus would be a health care professional who is diagnosed with COVID-19 after treating patients with COVID-19.”
The survey of PDA members about how the pandemic had been managed by employers included information from 556 respondents that work in community pharmacy. Of the community pharmacists 122 (22%) said that they had caught COVID-19 and of those, 49 (40% of those who had caught COVID-19) believed that they caught the virus in the workplace.
Only 5 of those pharmacists believed that their employers had reported the workplace exposure to the HSE. However, a recent government answer to a written question in the House of Lords revealed that zero instances of workplace exposure to coronavirus had been reported from community pharmacy employers. Sadly, this means even those 5 appear to have been let down as no such reports have been submitted.
To date, neither the government nor the pharmacy regulator has expressed any intention to investigate why there have been no reports in community pharmacy under this important health and safety law. The PDA has previously called for greater scrutiny and follow up on the actions of businesses that employ pharmacists.
Reporting incidents to the HSE is an important part of keeping workplaces safe. To date, the government have not commenced the tripartite meetings called for by PDA and fellow union USDAW, where this sort of issue could have been discussed and resolved before now.
The PDA will continue to pursue efforts to keep pharmacies safe for patients and pharmacy teams.