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Personal protective equipment (PPE) strategy: stabilise and build resilience

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The PCIAW® continues to monitor the Covid-19 outbreak and its effect on our industry by sharing the latest policy paper by the Department of Health & Social Care.

Foreword from the Secretary of State

Protecting those who protect us has been one of our most important goals in our fight against COVID-19.

We have strained every sinew to get NHS and social care staff the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need, so they can do their important jobs safely and with confidence.

During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve needed to expand our PPE supply chain from 226 NHS trusts in England to over 58,000 different settings, including care homes, hospices and community care organisations.

This has meant we needed a Herculean logistical effort, of unprecedented scale and complexity, to make sure our healthcare heroes get what they need.

We’ve had to create a whole new logistics network from scratch, bringing to bear the experience and expertise of the NHS, industry and the armed forces.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has distributed over 3.5 billion PPE items for use by health and social care services in England; and this strategy shows the work we are doing to put ourselves in the strongest possible position ahead of winter.

This winter presents a particular challenge, as we may need to deal with COVID-19 along with the usual pressures that the season will bring.

This strategy sets out how we can put ourselves in the strongest possible position. Through getting a clearer view of demand, developing a more resilient and diverse supply chain, and building up our stockpile of PPE.

We have now also established a strong domestic supply base, transforming our ability to respond to a crisis and providing greater resilience for any second wave.

The work outlined in this strategy has meant we now have enough PPE for the winter period, and we will have a 4-month stockpile available to cope with any future surge in place by November.

I’d like to thank Lord Deighton, for stepping forward to lead this national effort, and delivering once again for his country.

I’d also like to pay tribute to all the businesses that have generously come forward with offers to turn over their production lines as part of this national effort.

You have all played your part at this nation’s time of need, to put us in the best possible position, for this winter and beyond.

The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP

Foreword from Lord Deighton

COVID-19 has presented many challenges and none more critical than ensuring the right PPE equipment is available at the right time to protect frontline health and social care staff.

In April 2020, I was asked to lead the national effort to produce PPE, known as ‘UK Make’. Then, in May 2020, to lead a PPE Taskforce with responsibility for buying sufficient supply of PPE from abroad, and for ensuring an efficient and effective PPE distribution system to all relevant settings across the UK.

We faced a number of complex challenges.

Prior to COVID-19 PPE had been in plentiful supply, mainly procuring from The People’s Republic of China, but that situation changed rapidly in March 2020. As the pandemic unfolded across the world, supply chains and transportation links were disrupted, and demand increased to unprecedented levels across the globe.

In the UK, as the number of COVID-19 cases increased, we were facing escalating demand for PPE and with a rapidly depleting stockpile and limited PPE domestic supply, there was a need to respond at speed. By this stage it was clear that established modes of sourcing PPE in the UK were no longer practical and that the influenza stockpile was insufficient to meet the COVID pandemic demand. In addition, offers were flooding in at pace from British businesses to assist in sourcing and supplying PPE.

The early period of the COVID-19 pandemic was largely one of emergency response; trying to make sure we were getting all the kit out to those who needed it.

Continuously learning from experience, we have brought together a team that consolidates our procurement expertise; we have better data on PPE demand and created a new PPE distribution network almost from scratch. UK manufacturing is now in place in all but one product category (gloves). On average, UK-based supply is anticipated to meet 70% of forecasted demand in December for all categories of PPE excluding gloves.

We have stabilised the UK PPE supply chain; we have over 32 billion PPE items on order and we will be rebuilding the stockpile during the autumn equivalent to approximately 4 months PPE usage at current COVID-19 usage levels.

It has been an extraordinary effort by so many to get to this point and my thanks and gratitude is extended to all involved.

We will not lose our focus; the PPE Strategy describes how we are building further resilience in order to be ready for any second spike of COVID-19 in the autumn, winter or beyond.

Lord Deighton

Read more: UKFT Update: Coronavirus – New Government Support Announced

1. Executive summary

1.1 The UK government and devolved administrations are committed to the effective supply and distribution of PPE to those on the frontline responding to COVID-19. At every step of the way the UK government and devolved administrations have worked side by side. Each of the nations has its own supply chain operation for PPE and is responsible for ensuring distribution within Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Each nation will have its own strategy; this strategy covers England.

1.2 A resilient supply chain system is capable of withstanding, adapting to, and recovering from disruption so that it can continue to meet supply needs. In the case of a pandemic, a resilient system can raise production to meet increased demand.

1.3 Detailed analysis of DHSC’s supply options for each category of medical-grade PPE has been conducted with the primary objective of resilient security of supply. Given the significant differences in the nature of the market for each category, DHSC is taking a detailed category-by-category approach to achieve optimal resilience.

1.4 UK manufacturing capability plays an important role in a more resilient supply chain. The UK manufacturing response to the crisis has been a significant achievement with, on average, UK-based supply anticipated to meet 70% of forecasted demand in England in December for all categories of PPE excluding gloves. It also has wider benefits, including the potential to create jobs and for the UK to become a centre for innovative products that meet user needs.

1.5 To ensure we can respond rapidly to demand surges in the future, DHSC is building a strategic stockpile. This will be equivalent to approximately 4 months’ stock of each product category and will be in place and stored in our warehouses by November 2020. Alongside a COVID-19 stockpile, we want to consider stockpile requirements for other types of pandemic threat. We are therefore beginning a review and commissioning new advice from experts such as the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) and other scientific advisers to determine the nature, composition and volume of a future pandemic stockpile.

1.6 As the people who helped us manage the procurement and distribution of PPE during the late winter and spring return to their normal roles, we have ensured that we are prepared to respond to any future need. We have developed a robust plan to stand procurement and distribution back up at pace to provide an effective and timely response.  

1.7 Building resilience in the PPE supply chain cannot be separated from government’s wider efforts to support economic recovery through a New Deal. Our improved PPE supply chain can support and align with our goals for UK industry, levelling up jobs and skills across the country, and doing so in a way that is ethically responsible, supporting our ambition to eradicate modern slavery, and greener, helping us realise our net-zero ambition. Government will therefore also consider how its tendering principles and criteria can ensure high environmental standards and ethical labour practices.

1.8 DHSC is committed to understanding the needs of individuals using PPE and improving their user experience. We are listening to the reported practical difficulties with the use of some PPE experienced by women and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals, among others, and are taking action to make sure user needs are adequately addressed in future provisions of PPE.

You can read the policy paper in its entirety here.

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