An NHS track and trace staff member cleans a bowl at a walk-in test facility following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Bolton, September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Government said it would have large stockpiles in place to provide a continuous flow of protective items, such as masks, to healthcare workers, including pharmacists who have been tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, after criticism earlier in the year that supplies were too low.

In April, at the height of the first wave of infections in the UK, unions said doctors and nurses treating patients with Covid-19 were putting their lives at risk because of a lack of kit for frontline staff.

“At the start of the pandemic, meeting the huge demands for PPE (personal protective equipment) was a massive challenge,” health secretary Matt Hancock said in a news release.

“That’s why we have worked every day since to ensure we have an uninterrupted supply to meet the challenges in the coming months and protect those who are protecting us.”

Four-month stockpiles of kit, including visors and gowns will be ready from November, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) said.

Lord Paul Deighton, who advises the government on PPE, said ensuring the right equipment is available at the right time to protect frontline staff was a “critical” issue.

“We have brought together a team that unites our procurement expertise and have overhauled the distribution network to rely less on overseas imports and more on our excellent businesses at home to ensure there is a reliable supply over the years to come,” he said.

Devil in the detail

Responding to the government’s PPE strategy, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “The devil will be in the detail but health leaders will welcome that there is a national strategy for protecting their staff, one which hopefully avoids the chaotic and anxiety causing scenes experienced in the spring.

Mortimer, however, noted that the strategy will now allow the system to be in a stronger place to fight the virus without staff worrying that they may be at additional risk.

“The distribution and availability of PPE to primary care and social care during the first wave of the virus was a significant concern for members and we now have the clarity of free access to PPE stockpiles,” he added.

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