The Government will extend its free personal protective equipment (PPE) provision scheme for GPs for a further 12 months.
The programme, which allows GP practices and other health and social care providers to receive free PPE from a central stock, was previously due to close at the end of March 2022.
But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced today it has decided to continue the free PPE scheme to health and care sectors ‘by up to one year to March 2023 or until the infection prevention and control guidance on PPE usage for Covid-19 is either withdrawn or significantly amended (whichever is sooner)’.
It follows a DHSC consultation on prolonging free PPE, responses to which showed ‘the overwhelming majority of health and care providers are strongly in favour of the option to extend the provision of free PPE’, with 95% of respondents in favour of extending the offer.
Primary care was one of the main sectors who took part in the consultation, making up 36% of responses.
Key themes for primary care respondents included:
- Free PPE enables them to provide face-to-face appointments while protecting themselves and patients
- The ‘financial burden’ of funding PPE themselves
- The ongoing need for PPE after March 2022
Primary care respondents said that PPE makes staff feel safer when delivering services.
One GP stated: ‘The challenge on primary care budgets is higher than it has been in some time. Costs are increasing from all suppliers due to increased fuel or supply costs and this is already eating into the primary care budget.
‘Adding the costs of PPE to this will reduce the budget further adding extra pressure and could result in having to reduce staffing and hours to fund these increased costs.’
Another said: ‘…we are seeing increasing numbers of patients in primary care and the IPC requirement has not been relaxed and neither should it be. We are using significantly more PPE than before Covid.’
They added: ‘For example, the cost to meet the requirement to provide a Type II face covering for each and every patient would be prohibitively expensive to general practice.’
One primary care service said providing PPE is ‘a cost that we cannot afford being a small business’.
There will also be a quicker and more accessible platform to order PPE, featuring rapid ordering options and status updates.
Health providers invited to test-drive the platform, the Government said, and the new PPE portal will be rolled out to all eligible users from April, after customer testing and trial launch.
It comes as the BMA has advised GPs to wear FFP2 face masks ‘as default’ when consulting patients face to face, to protect against the highly-infectious Omicron Covid variant.
The recommendations came while the doctors’ union was still lobbying the Government to provide fit-tested FFP3 masks to GPs for enhanced Covid protection.
The Government only provides GP practices with fluid resistant surgical masks in the free PPE scheme, and Pulse reported that GPs were forced to buy their own higher grade PPE to protect staff.
In November, the Government said PPE was the least effective in their hierarchy of measures in an update to IPC guidance.