Until recently, most people probably didn’t know what the letters PPE stood for. Now, personal protective equipment – or rather a lack of it – features regularly in the news as supplies struggle to keep up with the demands of the UK’s fight against coronavirus.
With the NHS prioritised, councils have been struggling to get their hands on the PPE needed to keep on providing crucial social care services to vulnerable people in their communities. Contract notices seeking urgent supplies like the one published recently by Lincolnshire County Council have become increasingly common over recent weeks, whilst Local Resilience Forums, which are multi-agency partnerships made up of representatives from local public services, have been put in charge of distributing supplies across communities in England and Wales and have been appealing to local businesses for help. An article published on the BBC went as far as to claim that social care workers “have been left wide open” to coronavirus after only 40% of Birmingham City Council’s PPE order was delivered.
In 2018/19, local authorities in England spent a combined total of just over £38M on safety equipment, uniforms and clothing with suppliers like Ballyclare and Arco. It’s a growing market too, with Porge’s emerging 2019/20 data having already looked set to show an increase of almost 42% in spend on safety equipment and just over 12% on uniforms and clothing even before coronavirus reached the UK.
One PPE industry insider told Porge: “The problems can be traced right back to when the coronavirus situation started to take off in China. That’s where a large amount of the equipment is manufactured and so when the Chinese government requisitioned the factories, it led to a worldwide shortage.
“We were already seeing difficulties in terms of getting our hands on our usual levels of stock from our suppliers even before the UK government started requisitioning it for the NHS. After that it became almost impossible.”