'Uncertainty' over PPE supplies during second coronavirus wave

There are concerns over the supply of PPE during a second coronavirus wave. Credit: PA

The government is unprepared for supplying vital protective equipment for NHS staff during a second coronavirus wave, a leading parliamentary committee has warned.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAB) has demanded Health Secretary Matt Hancock publishes a detailed plan for supplying personal protective equipment (PPE), with scientists concerned over a potential surge in coronavirus cases this autumn.

In the report released today, the Committee says there is still “uncertainty” over how PPE will be provided in hospitals and care homes. 

It also accuses the government of failing to understand the equipment needed for clinical and care workers, or how to distribute it.

Credit: PA

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has rejected the criticism, saying it is confident in meeting any future rises in demand.

Shortages in PPE caused huge problems for NHS trusts across the UK as demand for gowns and surgical masks soared when the virus hit its peak in April.

Public Health England (PHE) even reversed its guidance on which gowns should be worn when treating Covid-19 patients as supplies plummeted.

PAB has set DHSC a two-month deadline for publishing its action-plan for PPE supplies, saying it’s “absolutely vital” the same problems do not happen again.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The Government conducted a large pandemic practice exercise in 2016 but failed to prepare.

“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.

“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.”

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Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, has warned the UK must prepare for a potential second wave in Covid-19 cases.

There have also been concerns an increase in mass gatherings over the last few weeks could fuel a surge in cases.

A spokesman for DHSC said: “We do not accept these claims. We have been working around the clock to deliver PPE to the frontline throughout this global pandemic, working with industry, the NHS and the armed forces to create a distribution network to supply over 58,000 settings.

“Two billion items of PPE have now been delivered and almost 28 billion items have been ordered from UK-based manufacturers and international partners to provide a continuous supply, which will meet the future needs of health and social care staff.

“We will continue to give the NHS whatever it needs and protect it for the future – we have written off £13.4 billion of NHS hospital debt, recently announced another £1.5 billion of capital investment and we will deliver 50,000 more nurses by end of this Parliament.”