• Trusts report continued shortages of body bags, swabs and PPE
  • New PHE guidance says body bags not necessary for covid-19 patients
  • But NHS staff left “traumatised” from using alternatives

Several trusts are experiencing serious shortages of body bags as the death toll from covid-19 grows, procurement leads have told HSJ.

One procurement lead said his trust was running “very short” of bags and there “were no more coming through”. Another said staff were considering using mattress bags as an alternative.

Meanwhile, the GMB Union on Monday said NHS porters have been “traumatised” by using alternatives such as sheets to transport deceased patients.

However, a spokeswoman for NHS Supply Chain, which procures common consumables and medical devices on behalf of NHS trusts, told HSJ: “We have an adequate stock of body bags and are expecting more supplies to arrive soon.”

The spokeswoman did not confirm how many body bags NHSSC had left in stock. The spokeswoman also did not confirm if body bags were included in pandemic preparedness stockpiles, but a Public Health England spokesman later told HSJ they were not. 

PHE guidance states body bags are not required to move deceased patients who had confirmed or suspected covid-19 because the virus rapidly degrades after death, although it adds there may be other “practical” reasons for using the bags.

Meanwhile, procurement leads continue to report personal protective equipment shortages to HSJ. A procurement lead at one major acute said his trust was down to its last few aprons before a new batch was delivered at the end of last week. Another told HSJ on Monday his trust was still not receiving an adequate supply of gowns.

Aprons are recommended for all NHS staff coming into close contact with suspected or confirmed covid-19 patients, according to updated PHE guidance released on Thursday Gowns are recommended for staff performing aerosol-generating procedures.

Almost all aprons and all body bags listed on the website of a new supply channel for coronavirus-related products are sourced from China, which introduced stricter rules on the exports of several medical products last week, according to the South China Morning Post.

Chinese manufacturers must now be approved by the National Medical Products Administration to export face masks, protective clothing, ventilators and infrared thermometers, the Post reported. However, the Chinese government has since insisted it is still exporting goods internationally.

The NHSSC spokeswoman said: “Teams are working collaboratively to continue to source PPE supplies from current suppliers and new suppliers. In addition they are exploring whether companies based in the UK can repurpose their manufacturing facilities to help with producing supplies of PPE for the front-line.”

Swab shortages also remain a problem, trust procurement leads have told HSJ. NHSSC lists three swab suppliers on its new supply channel website.

The channel, managed by retail logistics firm Clipper Logistics with support from the military, procures swabs from Sterilin Ltd, Medical Wire and Equipment, and Thermo Fisher. These suppliers are based in the UK and Italy. HSJ has approached the companies in question for comment.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson last week stated a “major” swab shortage was limiting the number of tests existing NHS pathology labs could perform.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock last week said the government would work with universities and companies like Amazon and Boots to perform more swab testing. The government has promised to deliver 25,000 swab tests per day by the end of the month as part of a major increase in testing.

Swabs, aprons and body bags are all included on a list of PPE delivered through the new national supply channel. The operation was set up after weeks of disrupted PPE supply during which trusts spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to supplement inadequate and unpredictable deliveries. 

The NHSSC spokeswoman told HSJ the body was ”continuing to deliver millions of items including swabs and aprons to NHS trusts and other organisations every single day, working as part of a central team.”