The Health and Social Care Secretary has published a country-wide plan to ensure that vital personal protective equipment (PPE) is delivered to those on the front line responding to COVID-19.
The three-strand plan comes in the face of growing criticism from care leaders, providers and Unions over the national shortage of PPE.
Matt Hancock said that a full 24/7 “military operation” is “already underway” to deal with the demand for PPE, including a national supply logistics network to manage supply across the UK.
He announced that new website will also be rolled out in the coming weeks to improve distribution and enable primary, social and community care providers in England to order critical supplies.
“I will stop at nothing to protect those on the frontline who are fighting this virus,” Hancock said.
“Our heroic health and care staff are working around the clock and my absolute priority is to support them. Our new online ordering tool for PPE is supported by a 24/7 national supply and logistics network.
“There is a herculean effort behind the scenes, supported by the military, to get the right kit to our frontline heroes. These new supply chains, matched with a call to arms for more businesses and organisations to join this national effort, will help save lives.”
The three-stand plans sets out guidance on who needs PPE and when, and who does not, based on UK clinical expertise and WHO standards; making sure those who need PPE can get it at the right time; and taking action to secure enough PPE to see the UK through the crisis.
But the plan, published on Friday, comes amid growing tensions over the fact that care workers and NHS staff do not have the PPE they need to care for and treat service users and patients.
Unison said on Sunday that government assurances that the UK has all the PPE it needs are “of no comfort to staff whose workplaces are running low”.
The trade union announced that over the weekend, workers from hospitals, care homes and local council-run services have expressed fear and anger to UNISON’s PPE alert hotline about the absence of gowns, masks and visors where they work.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “No-one doubts the pressures the government is under. But the time for excuses has passed.
“Ministers have been saying for weeks that the PPE situation is in hand. That there’s enough to go around and it’s just a matter of logistics. But it isn’t good enough.
“NHS, care and other key workers are falling ill in huge numbers. Some have already died – including nurses, doctors, care workers, healthcare assistants and porters. Staff fear for their own health, that of their families and those they care for and look after.
“Worrying that they don’t have what they need to keep them safe is adding to an already stressful and difficult situation. Staff cannot keep going into work scared out of their wits.
Health, care and frontline council staff have told Unison shortages in their workplaces have meant they’ve resorted to buying their own equipment.
Home Care Insight reported last week that one care provider in Swindon is creating its own plastic face shields using 3D printers.
Meanwhile, some providers are resorting to crowdfunding to cover the costs of independent supplies of PPE as they struggle to obtain government stock.
Responding to the PPE plan, Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “This isn’t the first time ministers have given NHS and social care staff big promises on PPE. But there has been a mismatch between statements at Downing Street Press Conferences and the realities facing health and care staff on the ground.
“Staff have been raising the alarm over lack of PPE for weeks. We hope the government’s plans today deliver the adequate supplies of PPE our brave health care staff deserve.”