Government must have PPE plan within two months

The Public Accounts Committee has demanded a detailed plan for personal protective equipment (PPE) from the Department for Health and Social Care within two months, ahead of a possible second wave of coronavirus.

In a damning report, the committee warns that the government does not have either a clear understanding of the equipment needed for clinical and care workers, or how to distribute it – particularly in the more fragmented care sector.  

Although reports of a lack of PPE have been widespread, the committee said that uncertainty still prevails around future provision of local PPE across the health and social care sectors, and claimed the government is still not treating this with sufficient urgency.

Within two months, the Public Accounts Committee expects the Department for Health and Social Care to clarify its governance arrangements and outline when it expects to have a predictable supply of stock and ready access to PPE supply within the NHS and care sectors. This should include detail on the roles and responsibilities for the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment across NHS and social care settings.

Furthermore, the group of MPs say that the NHS now needs a coherent plan for how it will function after the peak of the virus, stressing that the crisis cannot be used as an excuse not to address long-standing issues, such as workforce shortages, coherent and aligned capital investment strategies, and tackling trust deficits.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: “The government conducted a large pandemic practice exercise in 2016 but failed to prepare. The previous Committee warned on the lack of plans to ensure access to medicines and equipment in the social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit, but, again, the government failed to prepare. There must be total focus now on where the problems were in procurement and supply in the first wave, and on eradicating them.

“The pandemic has thrown the deep, long-term underlying problems in NHS capital and financial management into stark relief. There is no room and must be zero tolerance for allowing the underlying funding problems to continue.”

In 2018-19 all NHS trusts in England were together running a combined net deficit of £827 million. In October 2019, trusts reported an estimated total backlog maintenance cost to restore their estate to an appropriate standard of £6.5 billion, of which £1.1 billion was high-risk: disrepair that poses an increased risk of harm to patients.

The Public Accounts Committee says DHSC and NHS England & NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) must now identify a capital strategy that clearly sets out expectations on how backlog maintenance costs will be addressed, and, by December, should report back to the committee with a timetabled plan to get the 10 most financially distressed trusts – running a still-rising combined deficit of £844 million – back to financial balance.

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Following the 2017 Naylor Report into NHS estates, it has been estimated that estate upkeep costs have reached approximately £10bn in annual funding for 2019/2020.

More recently, ERIC (Estates Returns Information Collection) data collection has contained some deeply alarming news about the condition of NHS buildings and equipment.

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