Dismore raises PPE supply problems

At today’s London Assembly Plenary, Andrew Dismore AM, Labour London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden raised the problems we have seen with PPE supplies during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Mr Dismore said:

‘The fragility of the PPE supply chain has been under scrutiny throughout the Covid 19 pandemic. Finally after weeks of dragging their feet and mixed messages, the Government has made face coverings mandatory in shops from tomorrow. In this context, how can our post-covid economy build in better resilience for essential supplies, especially PPE?

‘According to the London Health Board’s review of the pandemic, “Staff in care homes or in home care settings were working without PPE and without knowledge as to whether either they, or their clients were infectious”. Despite this desperate situation, British companies couldn’t find a way into Government supply chains. Meanwhile, an investigation by the Guardian suggests the Chinese government may have influenced an NHS supplier, Valmy, to prioritise clients in China over our health service. bringing local suppliers into public procurement could improve resilience.

‘Sourcing PPE from around the world means the NHS may be inadvertently supporting poor labour practices elsewhere, such as those revealed in the recent Channel 4 investigation of the world’s largest manufacturer of medical gloves, Top Glove, who  last month announced a tripling of quarterly profits during the lockdown. They have been dogged by accusations of abusive labour practices since 2018.

The UK government put pressure on the Malaysian Government to increase production of gloves amid chronic shortages in our NHS hospitals and care homes. Top Glove’s factories in Malaysia were revealed as requiring migrant workers to do 12 hour shifts, six days a week, for £1.08 an hour. This rogue employer has been a supplier of gloves to Polyco Healthline, a major contractor to the NHS Supply Chain, which provides PPE to our hospitals. The public sector must ensure our PPE procurement problems don’t result in such exploitation elsewhere in the world’.

Leader of Camden Council Georgia Gould welcomed clear guidance for shops on using face coverings, though preparations and supplies were slow and low at the start of the pandemic. She said that supply networks have now been established, which would assist with long term supplies.

Rowena Howie, London Policy Chair of the Federation of Small Business (FSB) said that procurement needed improvement in order to benefit local small businesses, however there was progress on supporting BAME businesses to supply PPE equipment.

Sam Gurney, Trade Union Congress Regional Secretary for London, East and South East regions said that the international Trade Union Federation was working to prevent exploitation globally, and London boroughs were looking into where they are procuring PPE. The NHS has signed up to the ethical supplier standards, and trade unions are in discussion with City Hall about how to ensure PPE supplies meet ethical standards.

For further information call Andrew Dismore AM on 07957625813

Notes for editors

Getting PPE to the frontline

“Staff in care homes or in home care settings were working without PPE and without knowledge as to whether either they, or their clients were infectious.”[1] The covid-19 death rate for social care workers is twice that for hospital staff.

Public Health England revised its standard for covid-19 PPE in March and then twice more in April. On 2 April it published guidance agreed with Royal Colleges and health unions, but on 17 April PHE published new advice without consulting staff bodies.[2] This included guidance on alternative PPE in the event of shortages.[3]

On 17 March, NHS officials told the Health Select Committee that the country had enough PPE.[4] Local agencies planned on the basis of national PPE stockpiles, “and that these national stockpiles were robust. As we all now know this turned out not to be the case”.[5]

Domestic and international supply

8,000 British companies have offered to supply PPE. But the Government only started talks with UK industry bodies in late March. Only one British company makes fluid-repellent gown material. Don & Low are now making 3.5m gowns by the end of July.

GLA health leads says many firms are too small to work with NHS supply portals, but there was no alternative route to partner with care homes, primary care and other operators. Deloitte, appointed to run UK PPE procurement, reported the same problem.

WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called on governments to increase domestic manufacturing of PPE by 40%.[6] NHS boss Simon Stevens, said domestic production of PPE needed to be “ramped up”.

In contrast, not only did the Chinese government buy its own domestic PPE production, it also purchased much of the rest of the world’s supply. On 30 January, China imported 20 million respirators and masks in 24 hours.

China may also have pushed aside UK orders for emergency PPE. Valmy, a respirator producer with a just-in-time contract with the NHS, told health officials it did could not meet requirements while at the same time sending two million masks to a Chinese government-linked energy company.[7]

Worsening relations with China threatens the UK’s PPE supply. China produces half the world’s “melt-blown” material, which is essential for masks. Other crucial materials produced in China include nose clips and another plastic called spun-bond polypropylene.

Concerns about labour practices in the international supply chain led the US to ban imports from Top Glove,[8] a major Indonesian firm accused of paying its workers around £1 an hour and accommodating them in squalid bunkhouses.

NHS supply chain management

Procurement is managed by Supply Chain Coordination Limited, a DHSC owned company. It has contracted Unipart to run the system. Unite have criticised a £2.4 billion savings target.[9]

Central purchasing teams cited issues getting hold of PPE including few UK manufacturers; other countries restricting exports; poor quality products; and price gouging by suppliers.[10] SCCL has no experience of sourcing PPE direct from suppliers.

The national PPE stockpile is owned by the Government but DHSC outsourced management. DHL held the £55m contract until 2018, when the US firm Movianto won it.

In 2019, Movianto got into a dispute with a construction firm over building a new warehouse. This culminated in Movianto getting a court injunction to stop the firm blocking access to the warehouse. In April, Movianto’s US parent firm sold it to a French company.[11]

[1] The story of health and care in London throughout the covid-19 crisis response, London Health Board, 30 June 2020 https://www.london.gov.uk/moderngovmb/documents/s67207/05%20Context%20LHB%20v0%209%20LZ.pdf

[2] RCS statement on latest PHE PPE guidance, Royal College of Surgeons, 18 April 2020 https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/news-and-events/media-centre/press-releases/rcs-statement-on-latest-public-health-england-ppe-guidance/

[3] Considerations for acute PPE shortages, PHE, 18 June 2020 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-infection-prevention-and-control/managing-shortages-in-personal-protective-equipment-ppe

[4] How poor planning left the UK without enough PPE, FT, 1 May 2020 https://www.ft.com/content/9680c20f-7b71-4f65-9bec-0e9554a8e0a7

[5] Person protective equipment stress tests, GLA, 22 May 2020 https://www.london.gov.uk/questions/2020/1606

[6] PPE: what now for the global supply chain? BMJ, 15 May 2020 https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1910

[7] NHS denied PPE at height of covid-19 as supplier prioritised China, the Guardian, 20 July 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/20/revealed-nhs-denied-ppe-at-height-of-covid-19-as-supplies-sent-to-china-coronavirus

[8] US blocks imports of gloves by Top Glove, Channel 4, 16 July 2020 https://www.channel4.com/news/us-blocks-imports-of-gloves-by-top-glove-after-channel-4-news-investigation-found-workers-were-being-exploited

[9] Government cuts to NHS supply chain causing hospital PPE delays and must be reversed, Unite, 1 April 2020 https://unitetheunion.org/news-events/news/2020/april/government-cuts-to-nhs-supply-chain-causing-hospital-ppe-delays-and-must-be-reversed/

[10] “System failure on PPE”, HSJ, 24 March 2020 https://www.hsj.co.uk/finance-and-efficiency/system-failure-on-personal-protective-equipment/7027207.article

[11] Private firm running PPE stockpile was sold in middle of pandemic, The Guardian, 22 April 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/22/revealed-private-firm-running-uk-ppe-stockpile-was-sold-in-middle-of-pandemic