Thank you for contacting me about the supply of personal protective equipment to people working in health and social care.
I would like to reassure you that ensuring our frontline staff are properly protected is of paramount importance to me, and to my colleagues on all sides of Parliament. I have been pleased to learn that the army has been working to distribute supply of the equipment. Having raised this matter with the department, I know that my colleague the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is taking this issue extremely seriously. However, I will continue to closely scrutinise steps being taken to ensure that all health and social care staff, whether they work in the NHS or other care facilities, are adequately protected and able to carry out their vital roles safely.
As part of the response to coronavirus, the UK has implemented a regulation to ensure that there is adequate supply of vital PPE equipment within the UK, EU, EFTA member states and certain other dependent territories. Before a license is granted, the Department of Health and Social Care will consider whether the proposed export threatens the need for PPE within the UK and the EU. I know that the Government is working with a range of suppliers to ensure that all health and social care settings, as well as other frontline workers, are able to access the protective equipment they need.
I understand that almost 8 in 10 members of staff in the NHS workforce are female, and I agree that it is vital that PPE can be used by a range of sizes and body types. I know that my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care are working with suppliers to ensure that all staff are able to access appropriate and functional protective equipment.
I am incredibly humbled by the monumental efforts of people across the country to support their local health service providers. PPE, however, is created to strict specifications and requirements in order to ensure the safety of its users. The Government has published these specifications online and wants to hear from any manufacturers who can produce PPE in line with these requirements. Potential suppliers are asked to complete an online survey which helps the Government track capacity within the system and production going forward. There is dedicated team in Government to help fast-track the regulatory approval process helping to ensure equipment can reach health and social care workers as quickly as possible.
I welcome the creation of a cross-government PPE sourcing unit to secure new supply lines from across the world. It has already published rigorous standards against which it will buy. Expert procurement professionals have been drafted in to identify PPE suppliers from across the globe to meet the increasing demand for a growing list of PPE products. Working with colleagues in the Foreign Office, this is enabling officials to pull together a global list of the UK’s PPE needs. The Government taking an open source approach and involving partners around the world in a co-ordinated procurement programme.
This is only one strand in the approach to increasing future supply of PPE. The Government is also calling on our homegrown industries to come forward to create new PPE manufacturing capabilities in the UK. This national effort will be led by Lord Deighton. Many businesses have generously come forward with offers to turn over their production lines as part of the national effort.
I completely understand and appreciate your concerns and I agree it is essential that Funeral Directors receive the protection they need at this worrying time. That is why I welcomed the cross-government recent announcement that funeral directors in England and Wales will shortly be able to access stocks of PPE through their local resilience forum. For more detail about your local forum, please click here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/local-resilience-forums-contact-details
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has determined that, where there are acute shortages of PPE, and where it is safe to do so, sessional use and reuse of PPE is approved in line with the PPE guidance led by Public Health England. Some of the PPE in the NHS Covid-19 ensemble is designated as being single use, but where equipment is safe to reuse as outlined above, NHS Trusts should clearly document how integrity checks and decontamination processes are being carried out.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.