• Audit requested stock and usage rates across local services, including NHS trusts
  • Local resilience planners were asked to provide data by Tuesday evening
  • Comes as a new PPE-only supply channel starts operations

The government has ordered an urgent national audit of personal protective equipment, body bags, swabs and infection control products, HSJ can reveal. 

Local resilience forum planners were earlier this week asked to share stock levels and daily consumption rates of the items at ambulance, acute trusts and in primary care and other services by 9pm on Tuesday.

They were asked to indicate whether each figure represented a “major” or “minor” supply problem, or no problem at all, in an email seen by HSJ.

The email added the data collection was “authorised” by Number 10. Yet on Tuesday afternoon — just hours before the audit results were due — a Downing Street spokesperson played down supply issues, telling reporters he had “not seen anything to suggest we don’t have enough [PPE].” 

The news comes days after a new national PPE supply channel was announced in response to weeks of major shortages at trusts, GPs and community partners. HSJ revealed on Tuesday that retail logistics firm Clipper would manage the new coronavirus-related channel.

The audit request came from a Ministry of Defense planner at the resilience and emergencies division of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

As well as trusts, resilience forum staff were asked to share stock levels among adult social care services, numbers of mortuary staff, other local authority staff, police, prisons, fire and rescue services and funeral directors.

The email also asked planners if local services had access to PPE supplies above their immediate need and whether local authorities were in discussions with any private PPE suppliers.

The email noted the Department of Health and Social Care wanted to develop a “systematic days of supply picture” for all PPE at all providers.

An MHCLG spokeswoman maintained there was “enough PPE to support authorities that find themselves with high demand”. She said the audit would urgently identify issues at a local level so stock could be sent where it was needed, quickly.

The spokeswoman added: “The government has given councils an additional £1.6bn to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and over the last two weeks we have delivered more than 390 million items of PPE to frontline staff in hospitals, ambulance trusts, GP practices, pharmacists, care homes and hospices.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ”The MoD is working hard to identify where it can most effectively assist other government departments and civil authorities. Through the COVID Support Force, the Armed Forces have over 20,000 personnel including specialist planners, medics and logisticians ready to assist with the response to the outbreak.”

Updated at 10.21 a.m. with comments from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Defense.