Ministers ‘must be open with NHS about PPE shortages’ | World news

Ministers must admit when the NHS is heading for shortages of personal protective equipment for staff, even if opponents “weaponise” such openness, an influential hospital boss is urging.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, wants the government to start alerting health service trusts when they are about to face a lack of equipment such as the ongoing dearth of gowns and visors that frontline staff need to repel Covid-19.

Writing for the Guardian about PPE shortages, Hopson says: “National NHS leaders will continue their massive efforts to fill current PPE gaps. But trust leaders believe that they should be included earlier in helping to find the solutions. For example, if there is going to be a stock shortage of a particular item, then far better to know about it well in advance.

“Trusts then have more time to effect the solutions like the mutual support approach they’ve adopted for gowns over the last few days.

Chris Hopson

Chris Hopson, pictured in 2013, wrote in the Guardian that Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

“There’s always a risk to sharing potentially difficult information more widely, especially if it reaches the public domain and can be weaponised to attack. But fully enlisting the skill, commitment and ingenuity of trusts to solve PPE challenges is key. And then all those who want the NHS to succeed can join together in ensuring this happens.”

Hopson believes that any future public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic will have to look into PPE shortages, which have triggered huge anxiety, alarm and fear among doctors and nurses.

“We know the time will come for a public inquiry into the UK’s response to coronavirus, including the issue of PPE. That will explore questions around whether we as a country should have been better prepared.

“Was the UK as prepared as it should have been for coronavirus including holding the right levels of the right PPE equipment? It will be vital, when the time is right, to explore this question and learn lessons for the future.”

Hopson’s remarks come hours after he revealed on Sunday that the efforts to get adequate supplies of adequate PPE delivered to settings offering NHS care such as hospitals and GP surgeries had “all been a bit hand to mouth”.

He also disclosed that getting regular supplies of PPE from China, the world’s main manufacturer, had become “erratic”, with some boxes of gowns turning up in the NHS UK found to be full of face masks instead.

While ministers are right that record numbers of pieces of PPE are reaching hospitals and other settings, “frontline staff, and those representing them, are pointing with increasing frustration to multiple instances of PPE not being available when required”.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, admitted at Sunday’s daily government press conference on coronavirus that it was “impossible” to say when hospitals would have all the PPE they needed.

The Royal College of Nursing increased the pressure on ministers over PPE on Sunday when it said that nurses should refuse to treat patients with Covid-19 “as a last resort” if there could not access the full PPE they needed.

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