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GP out-of-hours provider spent £100k on PPE with no sign of reimbursement

Exclusive An out-of-hours provider has spent around £100,000 on PPE while still awaiting the reimbursement promised by NHS England. 

GP out-of-hours provider Badger, which covers around 1.4m patients in Birmingham and Solihull, told Pulse that they have spent around £100,000 on PPE so far because ‘NHS supply organisation has been very poor’.

The long-touted General Practice Covid Support Fund, first promised by NHS England in April, has yet to receive approval from the Treasury.

GPs were told they would be entitled to reimbursement for additional costs of the pandemic response, including PPE to the standard recommended by Public Health England.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it is ‘working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the frontline’.

But GP practices can still only order one free ’emergency’ pack of PPE from the Government’s central portal that is operated alongside eBay and Royal Mail. 

Badger CEO and group medical director Dr Fay Wilson, a GP in Birmingham, said: ‘The NHS-standard PPE supply has been irregular. We decided this week we will have to start again buying disposable aprons and gloves because we haven’t had a delivery for so long.’

The Badger group has been relying on donations to keep them going despite the unreliable supply from the Government, Dr Wilson added.

She said: ‘We would have run out of standard surgical masks but a local charity donor presented us with a couple of thousand better quality than the NHS ones we have just had to bin – so that is keeping us going.’

And while some PPE costs have now reduced, Dr Wilson told Pulse that Badger ‘will try to reclaim the cost’ of items that should have been supplied for free.

She said: ‘We bought FFP2 masks and prices have fallen since we started. We also bought some face shields on Amazon but Jaguar Landrover who are based locally went into face shield production, gave us 150 and then sold us more for the cost of the materials which was a blessing.

‘We will try to reclaim the cost of these as they are an NHS standard item that we should be getting supplied.‘

However, Dr Wilson added that she is not confident that they will ever be reimbursed.

She said: ‘When it became clear we weren’t going to get reimbursed, one of our doctors started a home sewing network. At the same time we got to know of other sewing networks who were being stood down by hospitals who had enough scrubs.’

While they are still needed for home visits, Badger has been able to reduce its use of disposable gowns and suits – but restarting visiting services that were ‘severely restricted’ or suspended will now ‘increase the burn rate’, Dr Wilson added.

Meanwhile, Dr Wilson has shaved her hair as part of a PPE fundraising appeal for the Badger group, which has so far raised almost £9,000.

She told Pulse: ‘When this started and we realised the NHS wouldn’t pay for the level of PPE we needed, I said that I would undergo the head shave when the appeal reached £5,000.’

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the frontline throughout this global pandemic, and we have delivered more than 2.4bn items of PPE since the pandemic began.

‘Our approach has ensured we are well prepared for the months ahead, with over 30bn items ordered from UK-based manufacturers and international partners.’

They confirmed that both the National Supply Disruption Response (NSDR) system and the online PPE portal are available for emergency PPE requests from practices and out-of-hours GP providers that are registered with the CQC and MHRA.

Details of the GP Covid Support Fund will be confirmed in due course, they added.

It comes as the Treasury has approved over £15bn for PPE procurement, although GPs and other healthcare providers have suffered severe problems with securing sufficient PPE during the pandemic.

The BMA revealed this month that fewer than two-thirds of practices report having ‘adequate’ eye protection and less than half of GPs said they feel fully protected at work.

Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee has given the Department of Health and Social Care two months to present a plan for how it will ensure PPE provision in the case of a second Covid-19 spike.

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