• Many trusts experiencing serious shortages of gowns
  • Procurement trade body told gowns were included in national stockpiles
  • NHS Supply Chain expecting more gowns Monday
  • PPE-only supply chain expected to begin operations midweek

Gowns for front-line staff were not included in the national pandemic stockpile of personal protective equipment, procurement chiefs have been told.

Trust procurement leads have raised concerns over dwindling gown supplies. Health Care Supply Association chief officer Alan Hoskins tweeted he could not order the products through NHS Supply Chain, even after escalating the matter to NHS England.

Mr Hoskins’ tweet on Sunday, which has since been deleted, said: “What a day, no gowns NHS Supply Chain. Rang every number escalated to NHS England, just got message back — no stock, can’t help, can send you a PPE pack. Losing the will to live, god help us all.”

Senior procurement leads told HSJ that major trusts, including Barts Health in London, ran out of gowns at the end of last week. Calling the supplies situation “extremely bad,” one source said there were “virtually no gowns left in the system” and no communication from NHS Supply Chain as to when more would be available.

One trust procurement director told HSJ: “Senior people have been repeating the line that ‘there is no shortage of supplies, just a few minor transport difficulties’ for a few weeks now - and that is not helpful. It is not as if they need to look too far - HSJ and other media have been pointing it out constantly. The supplies situation is still extremely bad. The HCSA posted a tweet about the critical gown shortage yesterday - only to receive a series of calls from the centre - not to update, but to ask them to take the tweet down.”

On Monday morning, the HCSA said it had confirmed that gowns were not included in the national pandemic stockpile of PPE equipment. The DHSC and NHS SC have been using this stockpile for FFP3 masks since 10 March. 

The trade body, which represents NHS procurement staff, stated on Twitter that NHS SC had instead been shipping stocks of gowns built up in case of a no-deal Brexit. 

On Friday evening, NHS SC told HSJ  it was expecting to receive gowns today (Monday), which soon should be available for order.

A spokeswoman said: “We are continuing to engage with our customers through our account management team and provide updates on the daily customer webinar on PPE product availability.

“We’re working closely with our suppliers to manage stock levels of the identified key product lines outlined in Public Health England’s guidance. We have stock on order from the UK and European countries in addition to suppliers based in the Far East to continue to secure a pipeline and replenish our stocks to help ensure these products are delivered to the front-line.”

A spokesman for Public Health England confirmed to HSJ that gowns were not currently part of the pandemic influenza stockpile, but said the body was implementing a commission to include them. PHE is responsible for maintaining the stockpile, while its contents are determined by the DHSC.

HSJ has approached NHS Supply Chain and the DHSC for comment on the pandemic stockpile, and has approached Alan Hoskins for comment on his tweet. An NHSE spokesman declined to comment. 

NHS Supply Chain and the Department of Health and Social Care have come under fire in recent weeks for delivering inadequate and unpredictable supplies of both PPE and “business as usual” stock to trusts.

This has intensified with the deaths of two consultants from covid-19 and reports of staff being unwilling to treat patients without World Health Organisation-compliant PPE.

On Sunday, NHS Providers chief Chris Hopson said a PPE-only supply chain was being set up so that NHS Supply Chain could focus on non-PPE stock. The new supply chain is expected to begin operations by the middle of this week.

Updated at 5.45 p.m. on 30th March 2020 to include a response from Public Health England.