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Fri, 4 December 2020

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Ministers ‘messed up royally’ over PPE as MPs demand plan to protect NHS workers from potential coronavirus second wave

Ministers ‘messed up royally’ over PPE as MPs demand plan to protect NHS workers from potential coronavirus second wave
4 min read

Ministers have been put on notice to solve problems with personal protective equipment (PPE) ahead of a feared second spike in cases of Covid-19.

The Public Accounts Committee has demanded a detailed plan within two months on how the Government will ensure PPE can reach frontline workers in the health and care sector. 

The group of MPs say ministers "messed up royally" during the first wave of the virus, and argue it is “absolutely vital” that similar shortages of PPE do not take place again if and when cases increase. 

“The Government conducted a large pandemic practice exercise in 2016 but failed to prepare,” said Meg HillIer, the Labour MP and chair of the committee.

“The previous committee warned on the lack of plans to ensure access to medicines and equipment in the social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit, but, again, the Government failed to prepare. 

“There must be total focus now on where the problems were in procurement and supply in the first wave, and on eradicating them.”

Speaking to The House Live, she added: “Normally we would give a bit longer than two months because it might take a while to do, but we are facing a pandemic and they’ve messed up royally.”

And she warned against “political complacency” creeping in over the prospect of a so-called second peak of coronavirus cases, as minds focus on the reopening of the UK’s struggling economy.  

TWO MONTH DEADLINE

Hillier argued that the Government prioritised supplying PPE to the NHS over the social care sector and must now consider strategically what equipment is needed across the entire industry and how to sustainably source it.

In the PAC report, ‘NHS capital expenditure and financial management’, MPs called on ministers to outline within two months when they expect to have a predictable supply and ready access to PPE.

Since February, 2 billion items of PPE have been delivered to NHS and social care workers in England, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Lord Paul Deighton, a business leader sought out by the Government to solve PPE shortages, said supplies are now stable and have been secured for the rest of the year. A total of 28 billion items are on order, he told the BBC.

A close eye is being kept on the R rate of infection - how many people on average an infected person is thought to transmit the virus to - as lockdown measures are relaxed across the country.

‘DETACHED FROM REALITY’

A furious row broke out this week after Boris Johnson argued “too many care homes didn't really follow procedures” during the coronavirus crisis. 

The prime minister has refused to apologise for the claims, which have been met with incredulity among industry figures.

Meg Hillier said the remarks were “a complete detachment from reality” and reminiscent of the former foreign secretary’s words about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national jailed in Tehran, whom he incorrectly said was working at the time of her arrest in Iran.

“It was insulting. You can’t misspeak to that degree as prime minister. He didn’t know what he was talking about, it was a shocking lack of understanding of what’s been happening,” said Hillier.

“It was a bit like the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe comment. It was sloppy, off-hand, thoughtless, hurtful and wrong.”

A study of Norfolk care homes by the University of East Anglia in collaboration with Newcastle University found that a lack of PPE helped fuel the spread of Covid-19. 

But the initial outbreak came about because of the numbers of non-care staff working within the facilities, the researchers said.

‘STARK RELIEF’

Elsewhere in the PAC report, MPs called for a plan on how the NHS will function after the coronavirus crisis - and insisted the pandemic should not be used as an excuse for failing to address longstanding issues such as workforce shortages, capital investment strategies and tackling deficits in NHS trusts.

“The pandemic has thrown the deep, long-term underlying problems in NHS capital and financial management into stark relief. There is no room and must be zero tolerance for allowing the underlying funding problems to continue,” said Hillier.

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