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Ban on Chinese exports of coronavirus PPE restricting supplies to UK

Global demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) and a ban on export of the products in China is causing constraints on securing additional UK supplies, the Department of Health and Social Care has said.

The DHSC, which said it had been notified of the problems by industry, told Pulse it was monitoring the situation and has ‘well-established procedures to deal with supply issues, should they arise’.

It comes as NHS England confirmed there are ongoing problems with local delivery of PPE to NHS organisations.

However NHS England said the DHSC had reported that at a national level there is currently an ‘adequate’ supply of the items.

Meanwhile, the BMA said it had been told of some doctors going to DIY stores or building sites to get hold of masks, because none are available where they work. 

It is calling for all frontline NHS staff who have - or are suspected to have - Covid-19 to have a reliable supply of PPE.

The BMA said the Government must ’substantially increase’ production and distribution of the equipment, warning healthcare workers are putting themselves at risk without it. 

NHS England confirmed the PPE distribution issues in a letter sent to NHS organisations earlier this week, which set out a series of urgent next steps to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

It said the stockpile reserved for an influenza pandemic had now been released to NHS England.

As previously reported by Pulse, the equipment for GPs, which is being provided for free, includes fluid repellent masks, aprons and gloves.

But last week two out of five GPs had still not received any PPE against coronavirus, according to a Pulse survey of over 400 GPs.

The DHSC confirmed to Pulse that distribution of fluid repellent facemasks - from the pandemic flu stock - will start tomorrow (19 March), including to all home care providers.

NHS England’s letter said: ‘In respect of PPE, the DHSC procurement team reports that nationally there is currently adequate national supply in line with Public Health England-recommended usage, and the pandemic influenza stockpile has now been released to us.

‘However locally distribution issues are being reported.’

In a statement, the DHSC said: ‘We are rightly taking every possible action to tackle this virus and have central stockpiles of a range of medical products to help ensure the uninterrupted supply to the NHS.

‘We have well-established procedures to deal with supply issues, should they arise, by working closely with industry, the NHS and others in the supply chain to help prevent shortages and minimise any risks to patients.’

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s chair of council, said: ’There are limits to the risks to which doctors, indeed all healthcare workers, can reasonably be expected to expose themselves to. 

’Frontline staff must have the proper personal protective equipment if they are treating patients with Covid-19 or suspected to have Covid-19. 

’The Government must find a reliable way to substantially increase the production and distribution of PPE. If any healthcare worker, treating someone with Covid-19 was to become ill, or worse, due to a lack of PPE, the consequences will be dire and the impact on patient care catastrophic.’

He added that it is ‘imperative’ that testing of healthcare workers who are self-isolating or suspected to have the virus begins immediately, to allow staff to return to work as soon as possible.

Readers' comments (12)

  • Vinci Ho

    While I can understand the ongoing controversy of whether everyone should wear face masks ( how many a day ?), there is no more argument about frontline healthcare workers ( including in social care) should wear PPE at this stage of ‘the upstroke of the curve’ in this pandemic.
    We finally have a Covid-19 interim guidance for primary care on 18/3 . Please read it carefully
    As I wrote , this is The Blitz 2.0 , at least for primary care and general practice . The country will not survive( politically , economically, socially and medically)without our efforts in primary care .
    After all , it is not just about the majority (80%) who will recover from mild illness of Covid-19 , but far more importantly the 20%( the vulnerable ones) who need hospitalisation and advanced , intensive care .

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  • Vinci Ho

    I have said repeatedly to my staff and colleagues,’ collectivism does not usually work in politics but this is one of the few times in human history collectivism will help .’😑

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  • The manufacturing sites for vaccines are in the USA and China according to a Sunday Times interview with infectious disease guru.
    So really when a vaccine is available is the UK going to be at the bottom of the queue or top?

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  • Vinci Ho

    We are where we are
    (1)I personally am not totally against ‘herd immunity’ but it has to be an outcome rather than the coping mechanism at this rapid upstroke of the curve .
    (2) The vaccine will come only later and this is reality . Hence, ‘delay’ strategy is the only natural way we can adopt . Protecting/Shielding the vulnerable ones so as to ensure we have enough hospital facilities to cope with the 20% infected needing hospitalisation , is vital .
    (3)Remdesivir and Chloroquine are certainly promising in treating these severely affected and critically ill patients in hospital . Many of these will have ( over 65%) will have ARDS which literary the reason why many died . Mechanical ventilation is necessary .

    Think about measles , German measles or chicken pox happened first time on this earth when nobody has immunity . The more I read about Covid-19 , the more I see more similarities. My opinion .

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  • Vinci Ho

    And I support more testing but has to be within the limit of resources .
    This BBC analysis described the dilemma well :
    Pragmatic analysis why we cannot test , test , test in UK

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  • There Is zero clinical evidence of the usefulness of masks against the coronavirus, constituting an utterly useless and fake PPE. I feel the medical profession should be taken to task for this ignorance and advocating the use of the masks and pretending to be upset about it’s lack of supply.
    We the GPS should be ashamed of ourselves for shutting out any face to face contact with our patients, when our hospital colleagues continue to do so.
    So we need PPE’s to protect the virus getting through our phones when we consult.

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  • dear philosopher one - so if we had an outbreak of ebola would you not use PPE then either? have you read the ICL outbreak model pandemic reports - they are on line and quite interesting to read. PPE helps reduce spread by reducing direct contact and you are more likely to wash your hands after using it. Also reducing contact to GPs by phone calls is actually a good thing. we should not be seeing those with coughs and colds at the moment without strict PPE and hand washing etc etc, because if we are exposed, we will not show symptoms for an average of 5 days but may be infective. We see the really sick and vulnerable at risk every day, either in surgery if needed or as home visits. We put them at risk otherwise. Patients were coming in with possible covid symptoms and not telling us till they arrived. we have to draw the line somewhere. if we get sick, there is really no one out there to replace us, and we then rely on our colleagues to cover the workload. its about protecting the vulnerable and us so we can continue to work. we have been leading the way for guidance and protecting the at risk. if doctors in hospitals are still seeing patients for routine issues without PPE you have to question the motive for this. The ICL report suggests this may last for up to 18 months if left unchecked. or we try and slow it down in the hope of a vaccine - there is one currently being trialled in America. even if successful it will take at least 4 months for any commercial product. this is going to go on for months yet. many people are going to die. we are now in the practical resilience stage of an outbreak. we do what must be done and hope to keep as many alive as we can.

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  • Dear Dr. D. You have totally missed the point and have waffled, I am sorry to note.
    The main point I made was that there is absolutely no clinical evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of ordinary fake PPE’s. And since GP’s do not have a face to face contact with the patients, why complain about non availability of the useless masks?

    A friend was unable to access the GP appointment after trying on the phone for 2 hours. I reminded him that under ordinary circumstances you would not have secured a GP appointment for 2 weeks anyway.

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  • For the placebo trusting GP’s in the effectiveness of the face masks, here is what Prof Robert Dingwall, a researcher at Nottingham Trent University said
    “ There is no point in wearing face masks because they don’t protect you. The weave is too coarse and the virus particles are so small they can jump through it.
    The main use of masks is to prevent people who are already poorly from spreading the illness. The only measure which is genuinely protective are the Hazmat Suits.
    The prevalence of face masks provokes an epidemic of fear alongside the epidemic of the virus.

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    so DHSC has 'procedures' in case something 'should arise', but they have not noticed that it has arisen, and din;t do anything about it in time? what twits.

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