• 1,400 organisations have been invited to use new eBay-built PPE portal
  • There are approximately 58,000 primary care, social care and community providers in the UK
  • Makers say it is being “scaled up” with 400,000 items of PPE delivered as of Tuesday
  • Many GPs still report serious PPE shortages

The great majority of primary, community and social care organisations are still unable to order personal protective equipment from central stocks through a new web portal expected to launch early last month.

Access to PPE remains a significant struggle in some areas, with primary care sources telling HSJ they had received meagre supplies from local authorities.

The national covid-19 supply channel was initially expected to ”start delivering” through an “e-commerce” portal in the week beginning 6 April, according to a document seen by HSJ.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman told HSJ the portal itself was launched on 8 April, so there had been “no delay.” The government’s “PPE plan” published on 10 April stated that a prototype portal was being tested by some primary care providers

But the system was only rolled out to a pilot group of 1,000 social care organisations from 27 April. As of Wednesday, roughly 1,400 primary, commuity and social care providers had been invited to use the system.

There are approximately 58,000 primary care, social care and community providers in the UK, according to the government.The new portal will be rolled out fully through a phased transition period” to ensure quality, according to the DHSC.

Timeline so far

27 March eBay and DHSC begin working on PPE portal

8 April Portal “up and running,” according to DHSC

10 April Prototype in live testing with initial group of providers

27 April Portal rolled out to 1,000 social care providers in Devon and Cornwall during a “pilot”

A spokesman for eBay, which built the website for free, told HSJ the system had delivered some 400,000 items of PPE as of Tuesday, and was being scaled up. 

Orders are to be fulfilled by national procurement body NHS Supply Chain and delivered by Royal Mail. The volume of products supplied will be managed centrally.

When rolled out across the country, the system is expected to cover the bulk of non-acute clinical PPE demand. 

The DHSC spokeswoman said: “We are working around the clock to ensure that PPE is delivered as quickly as possible to those on the frontline of this global pandemic.

 “Our PPE portal is currently being tested with a range of health and social care providers, and the data from this pilot will be used to inform the national roll-out on a wider scale. As of 5 May, over 400,000 pieces of PPE have been delivered. 

“Since the outbreak began, we have delivered over 1 billion items to health and social care workers.”

The new website is part of a national supply channel set up to distribute PPE and other covid-19 related products from central stocks. Trusts have been receiving “push” deliveries through the channel, operated by retail logistics firm Clipper, NHS SC and the military, since late March.

GPs and social care providers have been told to obtain PPE through their usual suppliers in the meantime. Organisations are also receiving deliveries from central stocks via local resilience forums and a national emergency hotline.

Primary care sources told HSJ they continue to experience shortages of equipment, with one GP saying they had received “sod all” PPE. There is variation in the amount of equipment coming through from local resilience forums, with some GPs saying they had sufficient from the central supply.

Prices have continued to be affected by the increased demand and limited supply for the essential equipment, with sources in primary care saying they have seen prices several times higher than pre-covid levels.

Poor PPE provision in care homes has become a particular area of focus as the scale of covid-19 mortality outside of hospitals has started to emerge. A total of 5,890 care home deaths have been linked to covid-19 as of the week of 24 April, according to the Office of National Statistics.