• DHSC and NHS Supply Chain tell trusts not to stockpile medicines and medical goods
  • Suppliers asked to hold onto Brexit stockpiles
  • Chinese government formally requisitions factories to supply respirators locally

The Department of Health and Social Care has told trusts not to stockpile products, amid growing concern over the impact of novel coronavirus on medical supplies. 

Many common consumables used by the health service are made in China, where demand for items like respirators and surgical masks has surged.

The DHSC this evening asked suppliers to hold onto any stockpiles they built up ahead of Brexit — and warned trusts and members of the public against stockpiling.

It also asked suppliers to perform risk assessments of the impact of coronavirus. NHS Supply Chain, which procures consumbles and other products on behalf of trusts across the country, warned against stockpiling last week and asked customers to give it as much notice as possible of their product needs and to avoid making “exceptionally large orders”.

It said it was stockpiling “many key product lines”, but may need to “manage any adverse ordering patterns” to prevent unnecessary strain on supply.

HSJ has established that some medical manufacturers, including Medline and JSP, have stopped accepting new customers in the face of unprecedented demand. Other companies, including Halyard Health, have said they are “prioritising” existing customers.

Some companies with operations in China have had their factories requisitioned by the government. JSP, which has two factories in China, has been making respiratory protection equipment for Chinese government agencies since 29 January and expects this to continue until at least the end of February.

The company, which also has a factory in Oxford, does not expect its inventories to recover until the end of June, according to a letter from chief executive Mark Johnstone.

A spokeswoman for healthcare consumables company 3M, which supplies to the NHS, told HSJ that global demand for protective products like respirators was currently exceeding supply. But she added that most of its Chinese-made products were sold locally.

She said the company was currently “ramping up production” in the US, Europe and Asia, and was working with “customers, distributors, governments and medical officials to help get supplies where they are most needed”.

An NHS Supply Chain spokeswoman told HSJ: “We are carefully monitoring our stock levels and managing orders from our customers across the NHS.”

Health minister Nicola Blackwood said: “We are not aware of any current medicine shortages linked to this novel coronavirus, but we are putting in place common-sense measures as a precaution to help to ensure the uninterrupted supply of medicines to UK patients.

“We have world-class systems in place to prevent supply problems and we are working closely with industry and partners to prevent shortages and ensure the risk to patients are minimised.”

NHS Supply Chain declined to share a list of its current mask suppliers, or share further details of its existing stockpiles. Both the DHSC and NHS Supply Chain declined to confirm if stockpiles were currently being used.

Some hospitals in Wuhan, where the outbreak began in December, have asked for donations of masks and gowns as local supplies dwindle, the South China Morning Post reported. Factories that normally produce phones and cars have been repurposed as mask factories, according to the Wall Street Journal.