Government still failing to respond effectively to PPE crisis as community initiatives step in

Hospital staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
Afroze Fatima Zaidi

As supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) continue to run low for frontline workers in the midst of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the government’s plan is still falling short.

PPE shortages reportedly persist for NHS staff after initial delays in equipment delivery. Meanwhile, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that “vital life-saving personal protective equipment for frontline care workers will run out within days”. The LGA has criticised the government’s delay in rolling out a new central government website to moderate PPE supply and distribution.

“Sporadic and inconsistent” supplies

In a press release on 24 April, the LGA said the website “could take at least another three weeks before it gets up to speed”. It went on to say:

The LGA suggests that councils and local areas could each need access to millions of pieces of PPE, including masks, aprons and gloves each week, based on feedback from councils… shortages of PPE are hampering efforts to combat the coronavirus and [the LGA] is calling for councils to be given an urgent guarantee that emergency supplies will reach them and their partners while they wait for the Clipper service to be fully operational.

The chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, councillor Ian Hudspeth, said “we cannot afford any more delays”:

Social care staff and all those working in frontline roles are doing an incredible and dangerous job in challenging circumstances, given the chronic national shortfall of PPE. We must make sure our vital social care workers have all the protection and equipment they need to look after our most elderly and vulnerable.

Emergency drops have been helpful, but they have been sporadic and inconsistent, with some supplies not always enough to meet local demand.

Councils recognise that starting a new supply and distribution system from scratch is a huge undertaking, but we cannot afford any more delays. The Government’s online ordering system needs to be fully operational as soon as possible, so that councils and care providers can directly request that critical PPE gets to the frontline where it is desperately needed.

Civil society and private companies stepping in

Meanwhile, the Metro reported that a new website called the PPE Exchange is now up and running to help frontline staff get PPE. This website “allows key and frontline workers across the independent, voluntary and public sectors to post their requirements, which are then matched to manufacturers and suppliers of vital safety equipment”. It reportedly:

comes after dozens of British companies offering to provide PPE to frontline NHS staff say they have been ‘ignored’ by the government.

Rod Plummer, who is managing director of the software company which launched PPE Exchange, said:

We got the site up and running in a matter of days and since then we have been inundated with requests for PPE.

He went on to stress the importance of acting quickly to address critical PPE shortages:

Mobilising PPE to get to the frontlines is essential to ensure the safest possible working conditions and critically slow the wave of infection and save lives.

Time is of the essence, with shortages and bottlenecks putting more and more people at risk, every effort is needed to tackle shortages.

Furthermore, medical staff have set up an initiative called MedSupplyDrive, which is coordinating donations for PPE supplies. At the same time, a collective of social enterprises and civil society groups has launched Help Bank Finder to try and do the same.

The LGA said councils have ‘appealed to manufacturers, local businesses, and other organisations to see if they can supply PPE’. It gave examples of individuals, businesses, and schools mobilising locally to address PPE shortages.

The Canary contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment, but had received no response by the time of publication.

Featured image via YouTube/ BBC Newsnight

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