• Procurement leads tell HSJ central PPE deliveries are inadequate and unpredictable
  • Trusts spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to source their own stock
  • HSJ hears claims DHSC and NHSSC unwilling to share specifics about national stockpile

Several trust procurement leads have expressed frustration with the government’s response to covid-19, with HSJ being told of shortages of crucial personal protective equipment, unpredictable deliveries and a lack of clarity from the centre

NHS Supply Chain, which procures common consumables and medical devices for trusts, has been “managing demand” for an increasing number of PPE and infection control products for since the end of February to ensure “continuity of supply”. Some products, like certain polymer aprons, are unavailable altogether because of the increased demand and disrupted supply caused by the covid-19 outbreak. 

One procurement lead told HSJ: “They aren’t supplying enough, they aren’t fulfilling orders. It’s completely chaotic.” Another said his trust had “just enough to manage for the time being.”

HSJ understands central government has recently eased some of its restrictions on supplies, although, at time of writing, neither NHSCC nor the Department of Health and Social Care have responded to questions on what restrictions have been relaxed or on what products. 

NHSSC is also shipping FFP3 ventilator masks — crucial for protecting clinicians treating infectious patients — from the government’s pandemic stockpile to trusts. But some trusts have complained the allocations they are receiving are inadequate and unpredictable. 

The DHSC acknowledged some trusts had complained of distribution issues in a letter sent to providers on Tuesday, but it maintained enough supplies were available in its stockpile. The department previously warned trusts against stockpiling at a local level.

Procurement leads told HSJ the DHSC and NHSSC are reluctant to share details about the national stockpile, including which items it holds, how many units are available and when trusts can expect to receive supplies.

Another trust procurement head said NHSSC was refusing to share information on stock in writing, but “if you can get through to the right people” you might get a verbal update.

Unscheduled deliveries have added to trusts’ frustrations. One procurement lead told HSJ: “We don’t know how much or when stuff is going to come in. The lack of recognition of the impact it’s having on clinician confidence, on patients, on staff safety — it’s irresponsible.”

NHSSC has told customers to consider buying alternatives when product lines were unavailable. Trusts have told HSJ they have spent significant amounts of money — hundreds of thousands of pounds in some cases — on sourcing urgent supplies, while one procurement head told HSJ staff from NHSSC had asked which suppliers they had been able to source goods from.


Some trust procurement leads also expressed concerns about the availability of ventilators, which are currently being sourced centrally, rather than by individual trusts.

NHS England CEO Sir Simon Stevens told MPs earlier this week that 8,175 ventilators are available to the health service, with roughly 3,000 more being procured.

But where and when these ventilators will be available remains unknown, trust sources told HSJ.

One procurement lead described the current supply situation as “awful” and “dangerous.” Another said they understood the situation was challenging, but “the support provided has not been great and lessons should be learnt.”

Trade body the Health Care Supply Association called for an end to uncertainty on Twitter on Wednesday evening, writing: “The HCSA asks all key players to urgently resolve supply and distribution issues in regard to PPE.

“We strongly support our NHS Supply Chain partners but we need certainty of supply and increased local stock supply to build resilience.”

A DHSC spokeswoman told HSJ: “We will continue to give our NHS and the social care sector everything they need to tackle this outbreak and have central stockpiles of a range of medical products, including personal protective equipment.

“We are working closely with industry, the NHS, social care providers and others in the supply chain to ensure these medical products are delivered to the frontline, helping minimise any risks to patients and staff.”

Updated 16.10 at 19th March 2020 with a statement from the Department of Health and Social Care.