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Coronavirus: Cabinet minister claims unused Turkish PPE a ‘good example’ of bid to protect frontline from inadequate gear

The shipment of protective gowns from Turkey was announced at a press conference in April.

4 min read

The fact that officials stepped in to stop a shipment of personal protective equipment from Turkey being used is a “good example” of the Government’s efforts to shield staff from the coronavirus, a Cabinet minister has said.

Brandon Lewis confirmed that the the batch of PPE gowns - which was delayed in its arrival to the UK - had not been “of the quality that we feel is good enough for our frontline staff”.

The Telegraph reported on Wednesday that the much-heralded shipment of PPE had been impounded near Heathrow after inspectors found it was “useless” and did not meet UK standards.

The shipment was announced at the April 18 Downing Street press conference, with Communities Secetary Robert Jenrick pledging that 84 tonnes of the gear would arrive in Britain the next day.

"Today I can report that a very large consignment of PPE is due to arrive in the UK tomorrow from Turkey, which amounts to 84 tonnes of PPE and will include for example, 400,000 gowns – so a very significant additional shipment," he said at the time.

However, the shipment faced a string of delays, with RAF planes eventually being sent to obtain the times.

Mr Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, on Thursday declined to say how many of the gowns had now been deemed unfit for use.

But he told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “I’m pleased that our health service experts and professionals are assessing equipment and only using equipment that they feel is of a good enough standard. 

“And this is a good example of where we are a country that’s going to make sure that frontline staff have the very best equipment and we want to work to make sure that we’re able to supply that equipment to them as well.”

He added: “We’re doing that from companies within the UK and, as I say, from right across the UK and globally as well.”

Asked whether officials should have checked whether the PPE was up to standard before being loaded onto the plane, Mr Lewis said: “All PPE that we acquire, we acquire expecting to be at the standards that we have outlined and specified when we have purchased these things.”

And he added: “There was a view that it was good enough PPE, it is only when it has got here that teams have looked at it again and taken a view that it is not up to the right standard and they’ve decided not to use it."

But Mark Roscrow, chairman of the Health Care Supplies Association representing NHS procurement teams, told The Telegraph the shipment had "clearly fallen short".

“Something very wrong has happened here," he said. 

"It's not clear to me why we weren't able to obtain samples in the usual way, and to see that these gowns weren't fit for purpose.

"We are being told that the people in charge know how to secure this vital equipment on our behalf, but the checks and balances clearly haven't been applied correctly. This equipment is still desperately needed at the front line, especially as hospitals begin to reopen other services which also require high quality PPE."

And Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders said: "This is the latest in a number of mistakes the Government during its response to the pandemic.

“It is vital that the Government produces a clear and credible plan for what comes next to avoid further serious missteps like this and ensure there is a secure and reliable supply of PPE moving forwards."

Meanwhile Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals and other care organisations said the difficulties over the Turkish shipment showed “the danger of making promises on a wing and a prayer”.

He said: “We have warned repeatedly that setting big targets which are then not met and saying all will be well, when at the sharp end of care it is manifestly not, undermines confidence among clinical staff on the front line.

“Local NHS leaders, who have been instructed to rely on the national supply chain, need to have the confidence they will be able to protect their staff adequately and we can fully understand their desire to source their own kit locally.”

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