Exclusive: Hospices to receive government supplies of PPE after warning of chronic shortages

Hospices are to receive weekly supplies of critical personal protective equipment (PPE) from the government after warning they would run out "within days".

An ITV News investigation found hospices in England have been denied access to government supplies of PPE - despite treating coronavirus patients.

Following a meeting of the Department of Health and Hospice UK on Thursday, the government has now agreed to deliver a weekly supply of PPE to all hospices in England, while they work to get hospices permanently added to the NHS supply chain.

The first deliveries will be received on Friday.

A medic cleans a piece of personal protective equipment. Credit: PA

The news was confirmed in an email seen by ITV News to hospices from Care Minister Helen Whately.

She said: "I know how hard hospices are working as part of the national effort at this challenging time, helping to take pressure off the NHS by providing capacity to care for new patients, both in hospices and community.

"However, I know some hospices have had difficulties in obtaining PPE, and my officials have been working hard to improve supply.

"I am therefore confident that it will be welcome news that all hospices will now get weekly drops of PPE until they are added on to the new PPE e-commerce ordering portal.

"Those deliveries are booked in, with the first drop taking place on Friday 8 May, and my officials and I will continue to work with the hospice sector to ensure they have the support they need during the pandemic."

Chief Executive of Hospice UK Tracey Bleakley welcomed the intervention and said it would make "a huge difference".

"I'm absolutely thrilled to see hospices will get weekly guaranteed deliveries of PPE," she said.

"This will make a huge difference to hardworking hospice staff and allow them to focus on what matters - looking after thousands of families they support every day."

A member of the clinical staff puts on Personal Protective Equipment PPE in the intensive care unit at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. Credit: AP

In March ITV News reported that providers of end of life care were relying on donations of PPE from schools and other local organisations, but were running out of vital supplies.

The majority of hospices in England usually get PPE from NHS supply chains, but they were removed in March to prioritise hospitals as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Some began purchasing their own PPE from private suppliers, but hospices have found it increasingly difficult in recent weeks to afford equipment as a result of huge price inflation.

Some hospices are being quoted up to twenty six times more for surgical masks than NHS settings, leaving them unable to place orders and quickly running out.

Hospice UK had been hoping to be re-admitted on to the NHS supply chain, which is managed by Supply Chain Coordination Limited (SCCL) - a company owned by the government.

ITV News has seen emails in which members of SCCL had reassured hospices they would be allowed access to their supplies - but two weeks on they are still being frozen out.

In an interview with ITV News on Wednesday, Health Secretary for England Matt Hancock said his department was "doing as much as we possibly can" to supply hospices with protective equipment.

  • Matt Hancock tells ITV News says supplies of PPE "are improving"

The PPE crisis comes as the number of patients being cared for by hospices trebled in April as a result of coronavirus.

ITV News has found the sector is now caring for 24,000 people a day - three times more than the same period last year.

Bolton Hospice warned they would run out of protective gowns on Friday, despite treating covid patients.

Sue Ryder hospices were running dangerously low on face masks after an increase in admittance of people with the virus.

Marie Curie, the biggest independent provider of end of life care in the UK, told us they had not received any deliveries of face masks in almost two weeks.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know