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Coronavirus: Two billion items of PPE now delivered to healthcare staff after warnings over shortages

A campaigner outside St Thomas' Hospital

3 min read

Two billion items of protective equipment have been delivered to frontline healthcare staff since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, ministers say.

NHS and social care staff have received 341 million masks, 313 million aprons, four million gowns and 1.1 billion gloves, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), as frontline staff continue to treat patients suffering from the deadly illness.

But health chiefs warned that the UK needed to learn lessons to avoid the "mess" of short supplies at the start of the pandemic.

Almost 28 billion additional items of Personal Protetive Equipment (PPE) have been ordered from UK-based manufacturers and international partners, the government said, to provide a continuous supply in the coming months.

At the start of April, as medics battled rising numbers of cases, unions chiefs had called on the government to step up its supply of PPE, warning of "a crisis within a crisis". 

UNISON, GMB, Unite and the TUC, along with the Royal College of Midwives, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and British Dietetic Association all reported staff concerns about supplies.

The Government also faced strong criticism after a much-vaunted PPE shipment from Turkey went largely unused because it did not meet the required standard.

Later that month, Boris Johnson appointed Tory peer Lord Deighton, a former Goldman Sachs banker, as its "PPE tsar".

“Coronavirus has placed unprecedented global demands on PPE supply chains," Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

"To tackle this, we set a national challenge calling on companies to channel their manufacturing power into manufacturing much-needed PPE, and brought in Lord Deighton who has truly delivered once more for his country."

He added: “It is thanks to the herculean effort from UK industry, the NHS and departmental teams, our diplomatic teams abroad, and the armed forces that we have now hit this impressive milestone.”

The normal supply chain for PPE was designed to accommodate delivery to 226 NHS Trusts, but essential supplies are now being sent to 58,000 different settings, including care homes, hospices and community care organisations, DHSC said.

Lord Deighton, who previously worked on the London 2012 Olympics, said: “The driving motivation of our team has been to supply our frontline workers with the PPE they need so they can focus on saving lives.

"This is why hitting this milestone matters and why I am so grateful to all the individuals and companies, both in the UK and overseas, who have contributed to this effort".

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said the numbers were "impressive, and reflect a great effort at the centre that has been made to turn this around".

But he added: "At the start of the pandemic we were not prepared with the right stocks of PPE, we did not have the right distribution system and our guidance was inadequate. We have a come a long way from that point.

“But for staff it is not about how many billion items have been ordered – for them trust only comes when they are confident they will always receive the right kit at the right time to care safely. It would be a mistake to underestimate the levels of fear and anxiety this issue has caused.

“Our members report that the flow of PPE is now much better, in part because of initiatives that they set up themselves alongside national supplies.  

"But this will be an ongoing challenge, and we welcome the continuing effort at all levels, including the establishment of a domestic industry which should ensure we never get into this mess again.”

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