School restart likely to put pressure on PPE supplies

Health and care services for coronavirus patients remain at risk because of difficulties in obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE).

A report to senior councillors said: “The key risk … is a combination of uncertainty in relation to supply and uncertainty in relation to potential demand.

“Both these elements change on a daily basis. Without adequate PPE, key services may need to stop.”

The situation is likely to become more challenging from next week when more children return to their school or nursery.

Despite supply shortages, Brighton and Hove City Council has managed to buy enough PPE to equip its own staff as well as those working for scores of other organisations.

And it has bought enough extra stock – under instruction from the government – that it has moved its store from Hove Town Hall to the Brighton Centre where all events are currently cancelled.

The move to the Brighton Centre allowed for more storage space. It also gave staff more room to work, making it easier to keep to the rules around social distancing.

Supplies have been passed on to care homes, doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies, funeral directors, hospices, schools, homeless support workers and community groups among others.

Officials had been hoping that the government would ease the pressure on the council to help care homes where supplies are used up fairly quickly.

But when the problems were discussed by a Brighton and Hove City Council committee this week, the government’s promised Clipper service had not yet started.

The web-based national PPE supply service is now reported to be up and running but Labour and Green councillors criticised the delay at a Special Policy and Resources Committee meeting.

Rima Desai, the council’s head of performance improvement and programmes, told the committee that the council had expected the Clipper service to start supplying private care homes last month.

She said that the local resilience forum did not have enough supplies so the council had to source its own.

Councillor Clare Moonan

Ms Desai said that demand was increasing with services starting to reopen and added: “We don’t know on a daily basis what sort of demand we will get.

“Sometimes, we will place orders and suppliers cannot fulfil them (and) we have to go through rigorous checks to make sure they are to the highest standards.”

An investigation was started by Sussex Police after the force had to recall thousands of sub-standard face masks which were supplied with potentially fraudulent safety certificates.

The council is currently spending more than £600,000 a month on PPE, with government funding to foot at least part of the bill.

In just over a month it dished out more than 650,000 items from face masks, goggles, gloves and aprons to hand sanitiser, wipes and rubbish bags.

Labour councillor Clare Moonan told the meeting on Wednesday (27 May) that care homes had come to the council as a last resort when they were unable to buy PPE themselves.

She praised council officials and staff for setting up its own “distribution centre” so quickly and ensuring that it was “second to none”.

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty

Green councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty said that there were moments when all councillors had been “really concerned” about the challenges in ensuring that there would be enough PPE.

He said that the council had managed “despite confusing and repeated failures with the Clipper system”.

Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “The government’s failure to act, their complacency and denial has enabled the pandemic to grow.

“Over the last few days, we have seen how that is imperilling the safety of residents as we go forward and may even risk a second wave (of the coronavirus).”

Councillor Steve Bell

Conservative councillor Steve Bell also praised council officials and staff for ensuring a good supply of PPE.

He said that the council would have had to take on the responsibility no matter which party was in government.

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