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County's quick PPE response helped to lessen impact of national shortages in Suffolk

Government provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) was unlikely to have been enough to meet demand in Suffolk, it has been revealed.

Suffolk County Council’s adult and community services team said it had organised its own channels of PPE procurement before the Government stepped up its efforts, which had been crucial in bolstering supplies.

Since the beginning of April, the authority has distributed around 300,000 masks and 550,000 pairs of gloves to 219 organisations across the county. It estimates its daily output is around 7,000 masks and 13,000 pairs of gloves.

Nurse wearing protective mask and gloves
Nurse wearing protective mask and gloves

Suffolk Resilience Forum, which oversees the crisis response in the county, has responsibility for distributing the vital kit to care homes, care providers, frontline county council staff, GP and primary care providers, residential schools, children’s homes, pharmacists, mental health services and funeral organisers among others.

Access to adequate PPE has been an issue nationally during the coronavirus lockdown, but care chiefs in Suffolk said the quick response was vital to lessening the impact locally.

Jaime Hawkins, programme manager for the PPE cell at Suffolk Resilience Forum, said: “In Suffolk we were really quick to react to the PPE demand, so procured PPE very quickly through our own procurement lines while waiting for central Government to bolster that with drops. Therefore, we have always been able to provide PPE to people who have requested it.

“I don’t think we would be in the position we are in now with provision if we hadn’t have done that. If we had been reliant on waiting for PPE to come to us in Suffolk then that would not have worked.

“I give all credit to our procurement guys for the speed at which they were able to procure PPE when we asked them to.”

The authority currently sends updated figures on stock levels to the Government every three days, which helps to inform the Government when drops are needed,

The team has also relied heavily on NHS trusts to gain an idea of what PPE was up to the correct standards. It has now issued that checklist to care providers in Suffolk attempting to source their own.

The county council’s Trading Standards team has also helped to make sure the PPE sourced has been of a suitable standard, but even then there have been problems.

A drop of 30,000 eye protectors delivered by central Government last month had to be sent back after they were deemed to be inappropriate.

Ms Hawkins said quality standards had proved a challenge when there 'hasn’t been any national guidance on that'.

It is a point David Finch, chairman of the Suffolk Association for Independent Care Providers echoes.

“The guidance has been extremely mismatched from central Government,” he said.

To ensure stocks are managed correctly, the council said it was issuing only a week’s worth of PPE at a time to care providers, many of which were going directly to Endeavour House, in Ipswich, to pick up supplies.

For those further in the west and north of the county, Suffolk taxi firm Phoenix Travel is being use to make deliveries.

Ministry of Defence staff are also helping to manage the logistics and stock control.

Ms Hawkins said: “The sense of relief and gratitude we get from providers is unbelievable. They are on their knees and being able to support them with PPE is just one extra thing they don’t have to worry about.

“It’s been amazing to be able to do that for them and it’s quite humbling being in the PPE cell seeing these guys come in every day and going off and carrying on what they are doing working under these conditions.”

Nationally, it is known that soaring demand has hiked up the price of PPE, meaning cost is an issue at a time the emergency response is already costing authorities hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The council said while costs had increased, it was still sourcing PPE appropriately. Planning the consumption rate had also helped, according to the authority.

The county council issued a callout for companies which had stocks of PPE that were not being used to donate to the cause, with more than 28 organisations donating masks, gloves, goggles, aprons and other items.

The supporters included beauty clinics, karting tracks, construction firms, schools and a podiatrist.

Two firms – RG Carter and Tru7 – even provided forklifts and drivers.

A spokeswoman said: “We had a great response locally from local businesses supporting the PPE cell. BT provided locally made visors, many local companies donated gloves and masks, Sizewell donated coveralls and masks, Phoenix Travel deliver all our PPE across Suffolk every day.”

A spokesman from the Department of Health and Social Affairs said there was guidance available on it website and added: “Throughout this global pandemic we have beenworking around the clock to ensure PPE is delivered asto those on the frontline. The full weight of the government is behind this effort and we are working closely with industry, local resilience forums, social care providers, the NHS and armed forces so that all our health and social care staff have the protection they need.”