• NHSSC to loosen restrictions on all PPE goods
  • Trusts have complained of shortages of face masks and other PPE in recent days

A national procurement body says it has eased restrictions on the supply of all personal protective equipment after a wave of criticism from trusts.

NHS Supply Chain, which procures common consumables and medical devices for providers, has been “managing demand” for a growing number of PPE and infection control products since the end of February to ensure “continuity of supply”. Procurement sources have described this as “rationing” to HSJ.

The organisation has also been delivering batches of masks from the national pandemic stockpile to trusts since last week.

On Thursday evening, an NHSSC spokeswoman confirmed to HSJ the body would stop “managing demand” for certain products. On Friday afternoon, she confirmed demand management restrictions would end for all PPE products.

She said: “The demand management controls that were placed on some PPE products have been removed as of [Thursday] morning to simplify the ordering process.

“We are asking customers to ensure that the quantities they order of PPE products are in line with the guidance published by Public Health England. We will continue to monitor all orders to ensure that stocks are managed fairly for all of our customers.

“We have stock on order from the UK and European countries in addition to suppliers based in the Far East to continue to secure a pipeline and replenish the stockpiles to help ensure these products are delivered to the frontline.”

Providers have complained of PPE shortages, unpredictable deliveries and a lack of clarity from NHSSC and its owner, the Department of Health and Social Care. Trust procurement leads have previously told HSJ the government’s response was “completely chaotic”.

Confronted with criticism over the distribution of PPE on Thursday evening, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Question Time some 2.6 million masks and 10,000 bottles of hand sanitiser had been shipped to trusts over the last 24 hours. However, on Friday morning, HSJ was still being told of trusts having problems obtaining adequate supplies. 

Trade body the Health Care Supply Association — which on Wednesday described the last week as “the most challenging” ever — told HSJ it welcomed the decision to release available products to trusts to shore up local supplies.

Commending the “continued support and flexibility” of the association’s members, a spokesman said: “We look forward to closer working; improved communication and streamlined systems to ensure PPE products get to the front-line.

“We commend trusts for introducing local stock management arrangements and urge all trusts to continue to act reasonably in exceptional circumstances. We are all working as one.”

Updated at 14.14 on 20th March 2020 after NHS Supply Chain confirmed it had lifted demand management restrictions for all PPE products.