A PDA survey has shown that 4 in 10 community pharmacists who caught COVID believe they caught it at work. They have said that this raises further serious questions about the actions of community pharmacy employers who have not reported cases to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
While the nation has been in lockdown, the PDA has said that there can be ‘no doubt’ that pharmacists’ most significant exposure to people from outside their households has been patients and colleagues in their workplace. they continue by saying that 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.
However, community pharmacy employers have not yet reported a single case of an employee likely catching the virus at work despite there being a legal requirement to report such instances to the Health & Safety Executive.
The PDA believe that it is ‘inconceivable’ that this lack of reporting reflects the true situation.
HSE has a 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 work-related exposure to coronavirus would be a health care professional who is diagnosed with COVID-19 after treating patients with COVID-19.”
A survey of PDA members about how the pandemic had been managed by their employers included information from 556 respondents that work in community pharmacy.
Of the community pharmacists 122 (22%) said that they had caught COVID and of those, 49 (40% of those who had caught COVID) believed that they had 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.
The PDA has expressed concern that 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.
PDA Director Paul Day commented:
“There have been reports of instances of COVID exposure from other employers of pharmacists, such as hospitals and GP practice, yet community pharmacy stands out as not reporting any cases at all.
“The country can only properly learn and prepare for any future pandemic if what happened this time is reported. Individuals also need these instances recorded accurately too if it is likely they caught the virus at work.”
The PDA has said that it will continue to pursue efforts to keep pharmacies safe for patients and the pharmacy teams.