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.