A new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that adult social care providers were not adequately supported by government in obtaining PPE and came very close to running out during the pandemic.
The report reveals that the Department of Health and Social Care took different approaches to supporting social care and NHS Trusts during the pandemic. Social care providers either accessed PPE from wholesalers as prior to the pandemic, or from local resilience forums and DHSC’s helpline for emergency requests.
The sector received just 10% of its estimated need between March and July (331 million items), while NHS Trusts received 80% of their requirements (1.9 billion items).
While NHS providers said they were always able to get what they needed in time, significant numbers of care workers said they did not have access to the PPE they required and were not adequately protected.
There have been 126 deaths and 8,152 cases of COVID-19 reported among health and care workers linked to occupational exposure.
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “It’s unforgivable that shockingly poor government planning left care and health staff to fight COVID-19 without the safety kit to protect themselves. They were left exposed and vulnerable to the virus.
“Ministers made the wrong decisions and reacted too slowly to the unfolding tragedy. The lack of foresight to properly prepare for the pandemic undoubtedly cost lives, as well as billions of pounds of public money.
“The government needs to be held to account to ensure such a monumental failure of our health and care services never happens again.”
Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “As the NAO report recognises, during this unprecedented pandemic all the NHS providers audited ‘were always able to get what they needed in time’ thanks to the herculean effort of Government, NHS, Armed Forces, civil servants and industry who delivered around 5 billion items of PPE to the frontline at record speed.
“We set up robust and resilient supply chains from scratch and expanded our distribution network from 226 NHS trusts to over 58,000 health and care settings.
“With almost 32 billion items of PPE ordered we are confident we can provide a continuous supply to our amazing frontline workers over the coming months and respond to future eventualities.”