• Glove shortage reported at main supplier chosen for NHS last year
  • Shortage caused by unforeseen surge in demand from trusts
  • “No evidence” shortage linked to Brexit preparations, says DHSC

Contingency plans have been triggered to make sure NHS trusts keep receiving millions of examination gloves, after an unforeseen surge in demand caused “stock shortages” at their main supplier.

A source at one trust told HSJ the shortage might mean staff have to “wash their hands more” to reduce the need for gloves.

Each week, the NHS relies on 32 million gloves being delivered by NHS Supply Chain, which sources half of the stock from Austria-based manufacturing company Semperit.

But, last week, NHS Supply Chain warned trusts their demand has been “significantly higher than planned”, which has resulted in Semperit’s stock being used at a “much greater rate than forecast”.

This has caused a “stock shortage”, though Semperit said it remains a “stable glove supplier” to the NHS.

One trust’s head of procurement, who did not want to be named, told HSJ the news had “sent a few alarm bells ringing” because demand for exam gloves tends to be “static”.

They said: “We’re looking at either getting the substitute gloves or people having to use gloves less and wash their hands more.

“Surgeon’s gloves could be an acceptable high-cost option… but our supply chain costs could go through the roof.”

However, the Department of Health and Social Care said other suppliers had “more than adequate” stock levels to cover Semperit’s delay, as part of NHS Supply Chain’s contingency plans.

The issue comes nine months after NHS Supply Chain cut the number of its nitrile exam glove suppliers from 10 to three, as part of a national push to make savings from the procurement of common goods and consumables.

Semperit, which manufactures industrial rubber and plastic products, was awarded a contract to supply 51 per cent of the required stock, while the other two suppliers chosen – Medicare Products Ltd and Supermax Healthcare Ltd – would be responsible for 29 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

The deal was estimated to create an in-year saving for the NHS of £3.9m (9 per cent). 

However, HSJ understands NHS Supply Chain has experienced delays in receiving nitrile gloves from Semperit, which impacts trusts served by NHS Supply Chain’s warehouses in Bridgewater, Maidstone, Bury St Edmunds, and Rugby.

Under NHS Supply Chain’s contingency plans for such a scenario, which are included in its contracts with the three suppliers, those trusts will instead receive their gloves from Medicare and Supermax.

These gloves are kept at NHS Supply Chain’s warehouses in Runcorn, Normanton, and Alfreton.

A DHSC spokeswoman said: “We have well-established processes to manage and mitigate the small number of supply problems that may arise at any one time.”

Other sources within NHS procurement claimed the rise in demand could be a result of trusts stockpiling gloves ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union, despite being told not to do so by the Department of Health and Social Care.

However, the DHSC spokeswoman said the department had no evidence the supply issues for the gloves were caused by Brexit preparations.

She did not respond to HSJ’s question about why demand had been higher than planned.

In its warning to trusts, NHS Supply Chain also claimed Semperit’s glove shortage was caused by the company moving some of its manufacturing bases, but this was denied by Semperit’s spokeswoman.

She added: “We continue to fulfil orders as placed by the NHS and remain a stable glove supply partner to the NHS.”