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Personal Protective Equipment

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 24 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what contingencies they have put in place to ensure adequate stocks of personal protective equipment for (1) a potential second wave of Covid-19, and (2) sustainable long-term infection control management in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, thanks to the efforts of my noble friend Lord Deighton and to brilliant British manufacturers such as Polystar, we have now massively expanded our national effort to buy PPE from around the world, to produce more PPE in the UK and to deliver PPE to the front line, where it is needed most. Despite the global challenge around PPE, we are now confident that we can meet the needs of health and social care over both the next seven and 90 days.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Could he be more specific? Based on the analysis of the maximum use of PPE in the NHS and social care community recently, how many days’ worth of PPE supplies do Her Majesty’s Government plan to hold permanently as a contingency for a potential second wave in the long term? Is it the Government’s intention to work with the devolved Administrations to adopt a four-country approach to supply and distribution according to need?

My Lords, we have contacted over 175 new suppliers and recently secured a further 3.7 billion gloves alone to meet demand. This approach will massively increase our stockpiling as we prepare the resources that we need for the winter ahead. We would like to have line of sight for 90 days’ worth of PPE supply, and that is what we are working against at the moment.

My Lords, in the last 10 years we have had three pandemic strategies, two national security assessments, a national biosecurity strategy and Operation Cygnus, and all have mandated the stockpiling of PPE, with advance purchase arrangements for what could not be stockpiled. The current NAO audit will reveal inadequate implementation of PPE plans, including logistics that needed to be rescued by the Army. Does the Minister appreciate that no one will trust or believe the Government about PPE unless stockpiles and logistics are openly reviewed, publicly reported on and independently audited? Will the Government put that in place now?

The noble Lord is entirely right that public confidence is important here. I emphasise that huge progress has been made. We have signed contracts for over 2 billion items of PPE with over 20 UK-based manufacturers alone. The progress made on face masks, visors, gowns, aprons and so forth is enormous, and the accounting for that will continue through the usual channels of government procurement publication.

My Lords, to what extent are the Government engaged in the procurement of PPE in a collective effort with the devolved institutions, and what discussions are taking place to ensure that every region is well equipped with adequate PPE and will have long-term infection control in place over the next 90 days and beyond?

My Lords, we have had regular engagement with the devolved Administrations and have discussed how we manage cross-border services. The balancing of stockpiles of PPE around the nation is something that we are very much focused on. We have moved from the supply of PPE to a few NHS trusts to nearly 55,000 individual users of PPE. This is a massive undertaking that has hugely expanded the scope of our PPE supply.

My Lords, I was pleased to hear the Minister’s ambitions for a 90-day stockpile. NHS Providers has now stated that most trusts are receiving the right PPE when they need it, but it highlights the need to move from a crisis day-to-day supply to secure access to 14 days’ worth of all PPE. Obviously this is important for planning, restarting elective care safely and especially for patients being asked to isolate for surgery. When will a 14-day supply of PPE at trust level be achieved?

My noble friend is entirely right that having adequate stocks on hand is important, but having line of sight is also important. Individual trusts are able to make their own decisions on whether they wish to have stockpiles on the premises or a flow of supplies from their suppliers. At present we are working on supporting the trusts in their decisions on this matter.

At yesterday’s Home Affairs Select Committee, Dr Jane Townson of the United Kingdom Homecare Association said that domiciliary and personal care workers are still struggling to get access to testing and PPE because the system is not designed for care at home, which means that infection control is almost impossible. Will the Minister undertake as a matter of urgency to review home care workers’ access to testing and PPE to protect them and their clients?

The noble Baroness is entirely right to emphasise the importance of getting home care workers adequate supplies. The expectation is that the majority of social care providers, including home care providers, would continue to access PPE via their normal wholesale suppliers, but we are rapidly overhauling the way in which PPE is delivered to care homes and domestic care supplies, including through emergency dispatches via the pilot e-portal and the national supply disruption response.

My Lords, it is not simply stockpiling but the ability to supply PPE as and when needed that is so important. Will my noble friend join me in welcoming and congratulating the private sector—firms up and down the country, big and small—which provided such tremendous support in meeting our recent PPE demands, demands not always recognised by Public Health England at the time? Can he assure us that we have learned the lessons and that we can rely on the experience, initiative and abilities of the private sector? Is he able to tell us that in future he expects, if he cannot guarantee, that all future PPE demands will be available from firms in Britain, rather than relying on sources from other, perhaps less reliable, countries?

My noble friend Lord Dobbs is entirely right: British companies have done an amazing job of stepping up to this challenge. I pay testament to Survitec, Bollé, Jaguar Land Rover, Don & Low and Burberry, which have all made huge contributions, and to the 350 firms we are currently negotiating with to create a new domestic supply. Nearly 2 billion items of PPE have been supplied through UK-based manufacturers. The moment when we are exclusively and entirely dependent on UK supply is some way off, but this provides a critical cushion and helps to build resilience for these important products.

My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised that I want to ask once again about interpreters in the NHS. I appreciate that because of Covid-19 many hospitals are using interpreters by telephone, but there must still be many cases where the physical presence of an interpreter is needed, Covid-related or otherwise. No answer has yet been given to my Written Question of 12 May about who is responsible for providing PPE for interpreters. I would also like to be reassured by the Minister, who I know appreciates the importance of interpreters, that they will not be forgotten when it comes to stockpiling PPE to cope with a possible second wave, when interpreters are likely to be needed more often if the disproportionate level of infection among certain minority groups continues.

The noble Baroness is entirely right to emphasise the disproportionate balance of infection among BAME people and the importance of interpreters in ensuring that they get the treatment they deserve. However, we are emphasising the use of telephone services because we want to keep people out of areas of potential infection. That remains part of the service that we deliver, and telephone arrangements are proving extremely effective. However, I take on board her point about providing PPE for those interpreters who are on site, and I will continue to press those in the department who oversee this important area of activity.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed and we come now to the third Oral Question, from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire.