Community Pharmacy employers have not reported any cases of the COVID-19 infection amongst employees despite a regulatory requirement that they must report if there is reasonable evidence that someone diagnosed with COVID-19 was likely exposed because of their work.

It is a reasonable assumption that pharmacists and their teams, in all areas of practice, will have been following social distancing and government guidelines outside of work to minimise the risk of catching coronavirus and avoiding contact with others, throughout the lockdown period. The majority of interactions with people from outside their household will therefore have been while they were at work, spending time with colleagues and patients.

Yet while employers of pharmacists in GP practice, prisons and hospitals have reported fatal and non-fatal instances of coronavirus among employees, a government minister has said there have been no reports submitted from community pharmacy employers.

Employers have a legal responsibility to properly manage health & safety at work. However, in April, the PDA reiterated the Health & Safety Executive reporting requirements as a reminder to all employers of their responsibilities under RIDDOR (learn more).

Paul Day, PDA Director said: “We need to know the most likely place that individuals may have caught coronavirus. This is necessary for HR records and to assist any overall inquiry into the pandemic in order that the country learns and improves in preparation for any future pandemic. This government statement means that either there have been no instances in community pharmacy, which we find inconceivable, or it means that some employers have failed to meet their reporting obligations.”

The PDA concerns come after a parliamentary question revealed the level of reporting when Lord Kennedy of Southwark asked the government: “How many cases of COVID-19 considered to have been contracted in the workplace have been reported to the Health and Safety Executive under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR)?”

The ministerial response revealed that while 1,526 instances have been reported from hospitals, 51 from GP practices and 4 from prisons, there has been zero reporting of COVID-19 by community pharmacy employers (see table below).

Lord Kennedy said “I am hugely surprised by the minister’s answer. The risks outside of work will have been the same for pharmacy employees wherever they work. We all know that GP practices have massively reduced interactions with patients, yet they have reported over 50 instances, whereas in dispensing chemists where activity has dramatically increased during the pandemic there has not been a single case reported. I am sure I am not alone in asking for an explanation as to how this happened.”

As pharmacists, PDA members know there is a duty of candour placed by the regulators on pharmacists and on employers. The PDA believe it highly improbable that not a single instance of coronavirus amongst members of the community pharmacy team was from exposure in the workplace. We call on employers to review where members of their team have had the virus and to properly report such instances without further delay, even if they have already missed the regulatory deadline for doing so.

Mr Day concluded: “The PDA receives concerns from employed and locum pharmacists about the conduct of employers constantly. If it is that community pharmacy employees have likely caught coronavirus at work and yet their employer has not reported this, it is shocking and it raises further questions about the business behaviour of some community pharmacy companies.  We need to see what action, if any, the regulator will now take to get to the bottom of what the government has revealed.

To see the full parliamentary question and answer click here.