• PPE portal for community organisations was expected to launch in early April
  • Online system intended to handle most non-acute PPE
  • Primary care and social care providers currently buying own kit and relying on local resilience forum drops

Community, primary and social care providers are still unable to access an online portal set up to respond to urgent requests for personal protection equipment.

The national covid-19 supply channel was expected to launch an “e-commerce” system for community health partners during the week of 6 April, according to a document seen by HSJ.

But the system — fronted by a website built by online auction giant Ebay — is still being tested and is yet to be rolled out across the country.

Many community, primary health and care providers, including GPs and primary care networks, are experiencing ongoing shortages of PPE, They are currently being advised to order through their usual supplier.

The supply channel website lists several other wholesalers providers can try, but primary care and social care sources told HSJ these are sold out or are reporting delivery delays of six or seven weeks.

Meanwhile, council local resilience forums have been assessing local need and distributing supplies to community organisations. Those in urgent need have been asked to contact an emergency PPE hotline.

The dedicated covid-19 channel was set up by NHS Supply Chain, a Department of Health and Social Care subsidiary which normally procures common consumables and medical devices for trusts. The channel, managed by retail logistics firm Clipper and the military, has been delivering goods to trusts since 31 March.

Community, primary and social care providers will be invited to register for an account with the new online portal once it is rolled out. Their orders will be processed by NHS Supply Chain and delivered by Royal Mail. But the volume of products supplied to each organisation will depend on customer need and central stock levels.

The system is eventually expected to cover most non-acute clinical PPE, but some NHS procurement sources believe local resilience forum deliveries will still be required.

A clinical director at a primary care network in England told HSJ: “The level of angst and emotion around PPE is just overwhelming, they are feeling vulnerable…..some are going in with a wet tissue over their mouths and staff are getting ill as a result. They are worried about their own health and in terms of managing the situation if they go off sick.

“People are doing what they can with what they’ve got. [The] new ordering system is meant to be going live imminently but if the supply isn’t there, I am not sure how this helps?”

NHS Supply Chain and the Department for Health and Social Care were approached for comment.