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House of Commons Hansard
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PPE Manufacture: UK Businesses
04 May 2020
Volume 675
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What progress the Government have made in processing offers of help from UK businesses to manufacture personal protective equipment. [902091]

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What steps his Department is taking with UK manufacturers to increase the supply of personal protective equipment. [902096]

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What steps his Department is taking with UK manufacturers to increase the supply of personal protective equipment. [902097]

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What steps his Department is taking with UK manufacturers to increase the supply of personal protective equipment. [902099]

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Every NHS and careworker must get the personal protective equipment they need. That is why we have appointed Lord Deighton to lead a national effort to boost PPE production and to support the scaling up of engineering efforts for small companies capable of contributing supplies.

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A large number of UK companies and consortia came forward with offers to manufacture and supply PPE, including the Protecting Heroes community interest company, which manufactures plastic visors and face masks. However, after the pandemic began, how many of those offers did not receive a reply for weeks at a critical time, resulting in some businesses selling vital PPE abroad? What were the reasons for the delay in processing and responding to such offers? Have the Government now established a more timely and efficient system for doing so?

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We have received 12,789 offers of help with the provision of PPE and 10,436 of those companies have now been contacted. I am sure that the House appreciates that many of those who make well-intentioned and generous offers of help are offering PPE that may not be appropriate in health and social care settings. We must ensure that we have appropriate PPE in appropriate settings.

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I have been assisting manufacturers in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburn and Denby Dale to register as potential suppliers of PPE on the gov.uk portal. I am pleased that the Cabinet Office is now responding to those businesses. My right hon. Friend has just confirmed how many have registered on the site nationally. Will he confirm when those that have registered are likely to start receiving orders for PPE?

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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the work that he, along with so many others, has done in order that generous offers of support can be processed efficiently. As I mentioned, we have 10,436 organisations with whom we have been in contact. But specifically with regard to UK manufacturing, there are 201 manufacturers with whom we are in touch at the moment, 180 of whom are qualified to provide PPE and 22 of whom are going through the technical product review necessary in order to ensure that their personal protective equipment is appropriate.

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While the number of offers of help from UK manufacturers to produce PPE is high, unfortunately many will simply not be able to meet the medical standards required. What help can the Government give to those companies who wish to play their part in this national effort?

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Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the efforts that he and his constituents are making. It is the case that specifications of the type of personal protective equipment required in a health and social care setting have been shared by the NHS and by Public Health England, but it is also the case that companies are in a conversation with the Department of Health and Social Care about what more they might be able to do to augment those who are not necessarily operating in those settings.

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I thank the businesses, and also John Flamsteed Community School in Amber Valley, who have been making PPE for healthcare providers. Does the Minister agree that we are going to need UK manufacturers to keep making this equipment for the long term, and will he therefore be able to relax procurement rules to allow these people to have some longer-term contracts so that they can get maximum efficiency in producing this equipment?

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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We do need to show flexibility in the way in which procurement operates, particularly in order to ensure that we have domestic production in the future upon which we can rely. My right hon. Friend Lord Deighton is leading the work in this area.

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Colleagues have made important points about shortages of PPE. Those who look after the sick and the vulnerable deserve our protection, and getting PPE to them is the priority of all of us. The Prime Minister said last week that as part of coming out of the lockdown, face coverings will be useful. As the Minister knows, in Germany and France it is now required or advised to wear face masks on public transport and elsewhere. So as the Government look to announce plans to ease some of our lockdown restrictions, how many face masks suitable for wearing by the public are currently available, and what work is being done with health experts to ensure that face coverings that people are using are of sufficient quality to stop the virus from spreading?

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I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. She is right that there are other European countries that are prescribing face coverings, particularly on public transport and in other settings where a number of people congregate. We follow the scientific advice. There is a clear distinction, as I know she knows, between the sophisticated type of face mask that will be appropriate in a surgical or social care setting and the sort of face covering that can be used by individuals in order to shield others. It is important to recognise that the wearing of these face coverings affords no protection to the individual, but, properly worn, they can be a contribution to making sure that others are protected from the aerosols—from the droplets—that all of us might be responsible for producing when we cough or sneeze. That is why Lord Deighton and my right hon. Friend Lord Agnew are working together in order to ensure that we can increase domestic production of just such face coverings.

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I thank the Minister for that, but it is of huge concern that he lacks clear answers to the questions that I put, especially given the ongoing fiasco of getting PPE to health and social care workers. So I ask again: how many of these face masks, for public use, are currently available? Other countries are ahead of us. France has increased production and procurement to about 8 million masks per week. The Japanese Government are sending masks to 50 million households. What are the Government doing to ensure that masks are distributed to all those who need them? Given that the Government were slow to engage with the UK textile manufacturing sector in the production of PPE for frontline workers, what are they doing to ensure that production of masks by British manufacturers is increased, looking forward to what might come next?

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The hon. Lady again makes a series of important points. In terms of the numbers of masks that have been distributed overall, from 25 February to 3 May we distributed 152 million masks, and just on 3 May we distributed 2.7 million masks. Of course, it is the case that for those masks that are appropriate in surgical settings we do need to have a particular material—melt-blown plastic—in order to provide the necessary protection for those wearing the masks. We have been in touch with the specific suppliers of that type of material here in the United Kingdom. It is also the case that suppliers of those materials tend to predominate in countries that have petrochemical industries, and we have been in touch with those, including in the Gulf in order to provide it. They are a very different sort of material from the type of face covering that would be appropriate on public transport or elsewhere, and that is a very different exercise, and the numbers that we can produce of those would be significantly greater because we do not have a reliance, as I have said, on that meltdown plastic, which can generally only be provided by other countries.

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One of the key issues on this rather vexed subject is that of transparency. Would my right hon. Friend consider releasing the figures that he and other members of Government are made aware of each morning on the Cabinet Office dashboard to show stocks and quantities of PPE set against demand?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is the responsibility of all of us to do everything we can to ensure that we have visibility on the need for PPE. That is why NHS trusts and others report on their stocks and the additional requirements that they have. It is also why we have ensured that, across our resilience forums that are responsible for the distribution of PPE to more than 58,000 settings, we have seen something like 57 million pieces of PPE distributed, but, again, he makes an important point about improving the visibility that we all have, and I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary State for Health and Social Care about just that.