Care providers in South Devon have launched an urgent public appeal to help fund personal protective equipment (PPE) as they struggle to obtain government supplies.
The providers are hoping to raise £50,000 to pay for 16,000 facemasks per week, and 192,000 over a 12-week lockdown.
Current government guidance is that facemasks should only be issued if a client has a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
But care providers are battling with this guidance, arguing that care workers should be issued masks on every single visit, to prevent the spread of the virus.
Torbay and South Devon community care providers are collectively providing over 8,000 hours of care per week to vulnerable people.
Katrina Green, owner of Bay Care in Paington, told BBC Spotlight: “My company alone does 4,300 visits a week, so that’s 4,300 facemasks we need, and as a small provider, we can’t meet the cost of that additional funding for PPE. We’re actually reaching out to the public to support us with raising those funds to get that PPE.
“I’ve got 15 suppliers that have come forward that can supply us with 1 million facemasks by Friday, if they are ordered in the right quantity.”
The government promised two weeks ago that all care providers in the UK would receive 300 fluid-repellent facemasks, but services have said that this only represents a few days’ supply.
Green, who launched the appeal, warned that care companies will close if they are not able to protect their staff with PPE, as staffing levels and cash will deplete.
“More patients are being discharged from hospital with no testing and then the frontline staff are being exposed to the virus without the correct PPE. This has already happened,” she said.
“Vulnerable members of the community have infected care workers. This results in severe damage to staffing levels, meaning the vulnerable members of our community will not receive care, causing risk to life.”
Home Care Insight shared the crowdfunding appeal with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), highlighting the risk that care providers could close if they aren’t urgently kitted out with PPE.
A spokesperson replied: “We are working around the clock to give the NHS and the wider social care sector the equipment and support they need to tackle this outbreak.
“In the past two weeks the NHS Supply Chain have delivered 170 million pieces of PPE equipment and in the last four days alone we have seen the delivery of 42.8 million gloves, 23 million surgical face masks, 1 million FFP3 masks, 13.7 million aprons and 182,000 gowns.
“The full weight of the government is behind this effort and we are working closely with industry, social care providers, the NHS, NHS Supply Chain and the army so all our NHS and care staff have the protection they deserve.”
Meanwhile, attempts to independently source PPE have, in some cases, been prevented as care providers are being told by suppliers that their orders had been diverted to the NHS.
In a letter shared on Twitter, the NHS Supply Chain (NHS SC) said it has “procured all PPE stock held by [name deleted]” for use in the assessment and treatment of critically ill patients.
When contacted by Home Care Insight, Martin Hall, senior category tower manager at Supply Chain Coordination, a management function of NHS SC, said the letter was specifically issued to a single large gloves importer, Supermax, to justify the ring-fencing of “older” warehouse stock to its bank.
“NHS Supply Chain made the decision to buy their slower moving lines – that others could have bought – to fulfil some of the forthcoming expected spike in demand,” he said.
“In quantitative terms, it is equivalent to less than a two-week supply for NHS SC BAU, and NHS SC is their single biggest customer so you would expect conversations to have been taking place with them since early February.”
Hall explained that in order to support primary and social care, DHSC, Public Health England and NHS England have been working with NHS SC and made available “significant quantities” of facemasks, gloves and aprons either directly – distributed by DPD – or through their normal distributors.
From early next week, community healthcare providers will be able to register and order products that will be delivered by Royal Mail.
“DHSC will be communicating the details of this new facility shortly,” said Hall.
The NHS supply distribution helpline can answer PPE calls and emails 24/7 via the supply disruption helpline on 0800 915 9964 or email firstname.lastname@example.org