The UK Government and the Executive have committed to ensuring that those on the frontline in responding to covid-19 are provided with the critical PPE that they need to do their job safely. As part of our UK-wide approach, the Government have allocated around 5.5 million items of PPE to Northern Ireland, which in turn has sent 250,000 gowns to the rest of the UK.
Earlier this week, Moy Park, which is the largest manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland, sadly experienced the tragic covid-19-related death of a valuable worker, meat packer, Unite member and human being. Everyone should expect to return home safely after a day’s work. Given what the Minister just said, is he happy with the adequacy of the supply of PPE from the UK to Northern Ireland? Perhaps people in Northern Ireland are not. Also, when will resources be provided to ensure that all frontline workers in high-risk sectors, such as poultry and meat processing, will finally be safe at work?
First, let me say that every death from covid-19 is a tragedy for the individuals and their families, so let me pass on my condolences to the family involved in this particular case. Of course, PPE is an important part of the equation, as are proper social distancing guidelines, and it is important that businesses such as Moy Park follow the social distancing guidelines, as I am assured that they have been.
Like those in other parts of the UK, including my constituency, care homes in Northern Ireland have been overlooked, with PPE not sufficiently reaching them. What discussions has the Minister had with the Northern Ireland Executive on the distribution of PPE to ensure that our most vulnerable and frontline workers are protected in this crisis?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The Northern Ireland Executive has been distributing PPE to the care home sector. Part of the 5.5 million items of PPE that the UK Government have been making available to Northern Ireland has been deployed in that sector, but it is an absolute priority that we continue to get a grip on the issue of care homes. I know that that is a priority for the Executive as well as for the UK Government.
The recent events of covid-19 have underscored the fragility of international supply chains, certainly with regards to PPE, when international demand is very high. Would my hon. Friend undertake at the appropriate time to discuss with his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Westminster the opportunity to grow this important area of our economy, thereby creating future jobs and enabling us to produce enough PPE in this country with a UK badge?
My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, makes an important point. Of course, it is vital that we work on the international procurement effort with the devolved Administrations, as we have been, but it is also essential that we maintain our domestic supply. I pay tribute to businesses in Northern Ireland, such as Denroy Plastics, which the Secretary of State spoke to yesterday, and O’Neills, which he visited just before the outbreak and which has switched over its production lines to producing vitally needed PPE and is making a huge contribution already.