Sunday 19 April 2020 / 9:17 AM Coronavirus / Rachel Reeves

Rachel Reeves writes to Michael Gove to raise a series of urgent questions around the shortage of PPE

Rachel Reeves MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has written to Michael Gove to raise a series of urgent questions around the shortage of personal protective equipment in the NHS.

Reeves writes that reports that NHS staff are now being asked to treat coronavirus patients without full-length gowns shows the severity of the Personal Protective Equipment shortage in our hospitals and “the desperate need for more to be done, and faster, to keep frontline workers safe.”

Reeves highlights the “huge desire within British textiles manufacturing to help” and is concerned by “a clear sense within the industry that the means to help is there but the government has been slow to respond. A number of firms that have filled in the government’s request form have heard nothing back.”

Given the severity of the situation and the threat to lives of NHS staff and patients, if this is not resolved, The Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster asks for clarification on a number of issues including:

• How many UK businesses have offered to support the manufacture of Personal Protective Equipment and how many have been taken up?

• Can you give assurance that any UK company ready and willing to produce PPE to the right standard will not be overlooked by the Cabinet Office?

• Can the government provide an exact date by which all those working in hospitals and social care will have a continual, adequate supply of PPE of the required standard, so they can do their jobs in safety?

Reeves ends the letter by writing that more can be done to “harness the willing and talents of British manufacturers.”

Ends

Notes to editors

[Full text of letter]

Dear Michael,

Along with the rest of the country, I have been deeply affected by stories of the courage of staff in our hospitals and in social care, who have accepted huge personal risk in order to care for our loved ones at this extremely difficult time. Frontline doctors, nurses and social care workers have already made enormous sacrifices.

I was therefore shocked to see reports that NHS staff are now being asked to treat coronavirus patients without full-length gowns. This shows the severity of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage in our hospitals, despite the government’s efforts, and shows the desperate need for more to be done, and faster, to keep frontline workers safe. Both the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association have been clear that without adequate PPE, the lives of doctors and nurses are being put at great risk – as well as those of their patients, colleagues, and loved ones.

The Health Secretary has on several occasions in recent weeks suggested that PPE was being used inappropriately by health and care workers and this was the cause of shortages. Many workers within these sectors have been dismayed at what they feel is an attempt by to apportion blame for PPE shortages onto the front line workers. For the sake of morale, I would strongly urge the government to not repeat this suggestion and certainly when there is no evidence that this is a notable factor.

Getting PPE in the right quantities to all the right places – not just to hospitals, but also to care homes, GP surgeries and elsewhere – is a logistical challenge. I know how hard you and the staff at the Cabinet Office have been working to address this. However, gaps still remain.

There is a huge desire within British textiles manufacturing to help, especially with the vast majority of the workforce – tens of thousands of workers – currently furloughed. It is therefore concerning that the government has not been taking advantage of this. There is a clear sense within the industry that the means to help is there but government has been slow to respond. A number of firms that have filled in the government’s request form have heard nothing back. I was particularly concerned to hear industry fears that the government had favoured engaging with major fashion and clothing brands for the production of PPE, over companies that may have been better placed to manufacture what is needed as quickly as possible.

It is good that agreements have been struck with some manufacturers to produce PPE. But this is going to require a mammoth effort and more must be done.

I ask that you clarify:

· How many UK businesses have offered to support the manufacture of Personal Protective Equipment?

· How many of these offers have been taken up?

· Can you give assurance that any UK company ready and willing to produce PPE to the right standard will not be overlooked by the Cabinet Office?

· Currently we are dependent on a fabric which only one UK company has the means to manufacture. This means that a huge number of suppliers that might otherwise be able to help are constrained from being doing so. What progress has been made – and what support has the government given to companies – towards finding an alternative material, which can be coated and used in production of high quality PPE?

· Why are the government using Deloitte to lead on the procurement of PPE? What experience do they have in this sector?

· There were clearly difficulties at the start of this crisis of knowing what stock each hospital had and what resources were needed. Who is responsible for keeping track of stock, and what else is needed? Does the Cabinet Office now have reliable information about supplies of PPE across the NHS, and the supplies that will be needed over coming weeks and months?

· What efforts are being made towards developing a national plan to ensure that PPE is available in adequate quantities for our other key workers workers – for instance, in food production, distribution, supermarkets, and public transport?

· Can the government provide an exact date by which all those working in hospitals and social care will have a continual, adequate supply of PPE of the required standard, so they can do their jobs in safety?

· Finally: I understand the Department of Health is looking into evidence as to whether all of us should be wearing masks when we leave the home, as has been recommended by governments in other countries, including Germany and the United States. The World Health Organisation is also in the process of reviewing its guidance regarding the use of face masks. What assessment has the Cabinet Office made of whether it would be possible to produce masks in those quantities, which may make loosening restrictions easier?

I know that everyone in government is working hard to minimise the risk to frontline staff and the loss of life. I am raising these issues in a spirit of constructive engagement, because I believe more can be done to harness the willing and the talents of British manufacturers in the fight against Coronavirus. Equally, the opposition will offer its support to the government where that is appropriate.

I look forward to your response.

Best wishes,

Rachel Reeves MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster