The British Government has now delivered more than two billion pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to NHS staff and care workers, it claimed today.
Department of Health officials announced the milestone and hailed it a ‘herculean cross-government effort’, adding it had ordered another 28billion items of PPE.
The Government was scorned by NHS staff and care workers throughout the height of the crisis for not providing enough equipment for people to work safely.
Doctors and nurses regularly reported feeling unsafe at work because they had to reuse masks and gloves and the British Medical Association even warned doctors would die without proper protection. Care homes were left with ‘paltry’ supplies.
Despite repeated promises of action from the Government, health and care workers were still complaining about PPE shortages in May — three months after the virus began spreading rapidly on British soil.
Now that the first wave of Britain’s outbreak appears to be coming to a close — 119 deaths are being announced each day, on average, down from over 900 at the peak of the crisis — the Department of Health hailed its ‘impressive milestone’.
It said the Government has delivered 341million face masks, 313million aprons, four million gowns and 1.1billion gloves to frontline workers.
The Department of Health confirmed it counts gloves individually rather than in pairs because they are delivered in boxes of 200 individual items. Earlier in the year it was accused of doing so to inflate the number of items it had delivered.
Personal protective equipment is now mandatory for doctors and nurses to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in surgeries and hospitals (Pictured: A nurse at a clinic in Grimsby wears PPE while taking blood from a patient)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today: ‘Coronavirus has placed unprecedented global demands on PPE supply chains.
‘To tackle this we set a national challenge calling on companies to channel their manufacturing power into manufacturing much-needed PPE, and brought in Lord Deighton who has truly delivered once more for his country.
‘Two billion items of PPE have now been delivered to the frontline, and a further 28 billion items sourced, that will protect frontline workers well into the future.
‘It is thanks to the herculean effort from UK industry, the NHS and departmental teams, our diplomatic teams abroad, and the armed forces that we have now hit this impressive milestone.’
GOVERNMENT UNDER FIRE FOR COUNTING INDIVIDUAL GLOVES IN PPE ANNOUNCEMENT
The Government’s shambolic handling of the PPE crisis was laid bare in April when a documentary claimed ministers counted every glove individually instead of in pairs to boast of delivering one billion bits of protective kit to NHS staff.
A BBC Panorama investigation revealed Number 10 had failed to buy enough masks, gowns, visors and swab tests – despite creating a major emergency stockpile for use during a pandemic in 2009.
Officials neglected to purchase enough PPE and then ignored a warning from their own advisers last June that they would need more, it was claimed.
The investigation also accused ministers of counting 547million individual gloves, instead of 273.5million pairs, to fiddle PPE numbers. They have also included cleaning items in their ‘one billion’ figure.
Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins did not deny the claims on BBC Breakfast this morning, and said she would not be ‘drawn into the detail of these figures’.
It came as a shocking poll by the Royal College of Physicians found that a quarter of doctors were having to re-use protective kit meant to be worn just once.
The college’s leader said the survey revealed a ‘terrible state of affairs’.
The protective clothes should be worn only once because washing them at temperatures high enough to kill coronavirus weakens their effectiveness.
Officials said they had ordered almost 28billion items from UK-based suppliers, with up to 20 per cent of all supplies being made in Britain.
They said the supply chain was only built to accommodate 226 NHS trusts but now supplied PPE to 58,000 different locations.
Hospital and care home staff have been calling for better PPE supplies throughout the outbreak and dozens of them have even died after catching Covid-19 at work.
The British Medical Association, just two weeks ago on June 11, said it would ‘continue to press the government’ on the issue because staff were still reporting shortages.
It advised its members that they cannot be forced to do risky work if hospitals don’t give them enough protective equipment.
A statement on the BMA website said: ‘There are limits to the risks you can be expected to expose yourself to.
‘You are under no obligation to provide high-risk services without appropriate safety and protection. You can refuse to treat patients if your PPE is inadequate, you are at high risk of infection and there is no other way of delivering the care.’
A desperate plea from a nurse working in Doncaster in April struck a chord when a medic at her hospital, Dr Medhat Atalla, 62, died of coronavirus.
The unnamed nurse said in a Facebook post: ‘Please, please, please if anybody knows of any companies that could spare us some PPE then please we are begging them to help.
‘We are all extremely anxious about the lack of equipment we need to keep ourselves, our families, colleagues and patients safe.’
Care home bosses have also been furious about a lack of PPE for their staff. More than 14,000 residents have now died with Covid-19 and the homes are considered hotspots for the disease.
In April insiders said they were receiving only ‘paltry’ and ‘haphazard’ deliveries of essential items such as masks, gloves and aprons, which are mandatory for all healthcare workers.
Bosses were still furious in May when they said they continued to struggle to get enough protective equipment for their staff.
The union Unison revealed at the start of last month that it had revealed almost 3,600 reports about PPE shortages from its members.
Colin Angel, policy director for the UK Homecare Association (UKHCA), said sourcing equipment for workers is a main concern for care providers.
He told BBC Breakfast on May 5: ‘I think every homecare provider in the country is really struggling to get a sure supply of PPE, and having enough to be confident that they can continue providing care services across, sometimes even days, if not just a few weeks.
‘And it’s a real stress. I have a provider who was telling me he was spending 90 per cent of his time trying to phone round and get PPE delivered.
‘That means he’s looking for PPE rather than being able to run the rest of his service.
‘That’s a huge problem, and the levels of stress it’s creating both for providers delivering care and their frontline care workers is really high.’