• Certain ventilator masks and tracheostomy items suspended from online catalogue
  • NHS Supply Chain says this will minimise the risk of shortages
  • Trust procurement leads concerned it will restrict restart of non-covid-19 normal services

Hospitals have been blocked from ordering crucial critical care equipment via normal channels because of an ‘exceptional increase in national demand’.

NHS Supply Chain has issued suspension notices for 13 non-invasive ventilator masks and 57 tracheostomy tubes, tracheostomy kits and vascular catheters, meaning they can no longer be ordered from its online catalogue as normal for hospital trusts.

It has said that where there is a “clinical necessity” for one of the newly restricted products, providers should contact their “clinical consumables group lead”. It is understood these leads are part of NHS England and Improvement’s covid-19 emergency response teams.

However, unlike many types of healthcare equipment and consumable affected by covid-19, these will not be delivered through a dedicated supply channel launched in March, an NHS SC spokesman confirmed.

NHS SC, which issued the mask suspension on 6 May and the tracheostomy consumables suspension on Monday, told customers the move would “protect stockholding” and “push out volumes in line with the NHS England and NHS Improvement consumption model”. The details of this model are not known.

The NHS SC spokesman said: ”Due to an increase in national demand, the suspension of any product is put in place to ensure trusts can continue to have access to the consumables they need to provide patient care and avoid unnecessary risk to stock shortages.”

NHS procurement sources told HSJ the product suspensions could affect trusts’ ability to restart some business as usual health services, which would rely on a supply of the products.

One said: “This is very significant and worrying — especially in context of trying to re-introduce other activity back into hospitals.”

“Phase two” of the NHS’s covid-19 response is expected to see trusts expand non-covid care where possible, according to a letter issued by NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens and chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard on 29 April.

Procurement sources expressed concern that ordering the intensive care kit through “clinical consumables leads” adds to the growing list of supply routes teams are currently juggling. Trust procurement teams are already getting supplies through several routes, including central “push” deliveries, business-as-usual NHS SC orders, an emergency PPE hotline, and direct sourcing. 

The movement of products between these streams has already caused logistical problems for trusts. Examination gloves - which are used widely throughout trusts and normally delivered to multiple locations - were recently transferred to the “push” channel, under which products are delivered to a central location.

Trust procurement sources remain concerned over the volume and quality of central deliveries, with several PPE products recently pulled from hospitals over quality issues. Trusts have been banned from bulk buying their own PPE in an effort to reduce competition and prevent local stockpiling.

HSJ has approached the DHSC for comment.