• Plan for new factory in Manchester to deliver one million masks per week to NHS
  • Region experiencing up to fourfold increase in PPE demand
  • Procurement lead describes current PPE sourcing landscape as “Wild West”

NHS procurement chiefs in Greater Manchester are close to completing a deal for a new factory to produce millions of face masks every month in a bid to improve personal protective equipment stocks across the public sector.

The factory will be run by an unnamed firm which is likely to have the facility established within weeks, in what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind scheme in the UK.

The NHS is grappling with a PPE shortage amid the covid-19 pandemic. On a webinar today, one regional procurement lead likening the current procurement landscape to the “Wild West”, in which some people are acting like “international arms dealers”.

Procurement professionals have told HSJ some manufacturers are asking for prices 10 times higher than normal for some items.

Setting out plans for the factory, Greater Manchester’s NHS procurement lead Neil Hind said the region’s demand for PPE had increased “three to fourfold” during the pandemic. Usually, the Greater Manchester NHS uses around 150 million items of PPE per year.

The new factory’s expected output is around one million masks per week, according to Mr Hind.

He told the webinar hosted by advisory group Public Policy Projects that the project will “almost certainly happen” and the masks — while more expensive than usual prices from overseas suppliers — would be cheaper than prices paid in the “current inflated market”.

Mr Hind said his team were not aware of any other firm in the country that can create such a facility “within a few weeks”.

He added the facility would bring with it “softer benefits” for the region, which will help Greater Manchester’s efforts to increase the “social value” and environmental impact of its procurement and supply chain.

NHS Supply Chain usually runs PPE procurement and distribution, but the process is now being managed by government in cooperation with the military.

However, Mr Hind said Greater Manchester has had to supplement PPE stocks provided centrally with items sourced directly by local procurement staff.

Around 14 million extra items are set to be delivered during the next four to six weeks. Most of these will be stored in warehouses managed by the local fire service before being distributed.

Mr Hind said: “There are lots of comments out there about it being the Wild West — I would agree. Lots of others feel like international arms dealers with some of the people we’re talking to, and some of the deals which are being talked about.”

He added direct sourcing was “not easy” and not necessarily the right thing to be doing in an ideal world but “needs must”.

Meanwhile, health chiefs in the north east have agreed a deal with local businesses and organisations to create a facilty that will manufacture gowns and other PPE items

The facility is set to open in Cramlington, north of Newcastle, during the next few weeks. 

  • Article updated at 2.39pm on 24 April to clarify the procurement of PPE is being led by the government in cooperation with the military and NHSE/I, rather than NHSE/I with the help of government departments.