High street pharmacists are "needlessly being put at risk" of catching and spreading coronavirus due to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), a professional body says.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society says that its members have not got the right equipment – masks, gloves and aprons.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that pharmacists are key health care professionals and are entitled to PPE.
NHS England said millions of pieces of PPE were being delivered.
The chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge has said the government is making arrangements to get the equipment to pharmacists.
'Abandoned on the front line'
Community pharmacists work as contractors for the NHS or for pharmacy chains like Lloyds or Boots and are the first port of call for much of the public when unwell.
Pharmacists give health advice, dispense medication and check doctor's prescriptions for errors.
Pharmacist Johnathan Laird, 36, who is editor of Pharmacy in Practice, said: "Pharmacies can be very small and we have to get close to patients – it's impossible to keep a two metre distance.
"The least we expect when delivering NHS services out there is safe and effective PPE. Some pharmacies have bought plastic screens and masks out of their own pocket. That's something the NHS should be paying for."
Graham Phillips, 60, is a pharmacist who runs several pharmacies in Hertfordshire and Essex. He said "my blood is boiling at the callous indifference NHS England has shown towards me and my colleagues.
"Community pharmacists have been abandoned on the front line.
"I have tried to source PPE at my own cost – but it has proved impossible to find adequate supplies and I am certain some of my colleagues will die as a result."
Without a ready supply of protective equipment, pharmacists fear they are likely to become unwell – and without the local pharmacy network many patients could struggle to get their prescriptions.
Robbie Turner, director of pharmacy at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: "The problem the message pharmacists have been getting up until now is to buy PPE from wholesalers. When they even have them in stock it's expensive.
"Pharmacies should not be having to go out and buy protection to keep them safe – this should be supplied by the NHS. Without it pharmacists are being needlessly put at risk."
NHS guidance says that pharmacists in high street stores should wear masks in store and wear gloves and aprons whilst in close contact with patients.
Some pharmacists say they have been forced to ration what PPE they have – and use gloves and masks only when a patient comes in with suspected coronavirus.
'We are unprotected'
Naba Hussain, 29, a pharmacist in London, said: "We are the front line – GP surgeries are shut so if anyone is ill they go to the pharmacy.
"We are unprotected and the most at risk. People could be asymptomatic or with the coronavirus symptoms."
Naba said customers often don't take the govRead More – Source