MPs have issued a two-month ultimatum to the government to guarantee sufficient PPE stocks are in place in health and social care in the event of a second coronavirus wave.
The Public Accounts Committee said it expects the Department for Health and Social Care to clarify its governance arrangements and outline when its expects to have a predictable supply of stock and ready access to PPE supply within two months of a report published this week.
In the report, the Public Accounts Committee warns that Government does not have either a clear understanding of the equipment needed for clinical and care workers, or how to distribute it – particularly in the more fragmented care sector.
The Committee said it is extremely concerned by widely reported shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for clinical and care workers during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and says Government is still not treating this with sufficient urgency. It is “absolutely vital” that the same problems do not happen again in the event of a second wave, but uncertainty still prevails around future provision of local PPE across the health and social care sectors.
The Committee also said that it expects the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to clarify its governance arrangements and outline when it expects to have a predictable supply of stock and ready access to PPE supply within the NHS and care sectors. This should include detail on the roles and responsibilities for the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment across NHS and social care settings.
The report further said that the NHS is now attempting to clear the extensive backlog of screening and treatment that developed during the first wave, and return to more routine and planned services again, against the backdrop of a range of pre-crisis performance measures it was struggling to meet, adding that the NHS now needs a coherent plan for how it will function after the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. The crisis cannot be used as an excuse not to address long-standing issues, highlighted in previous PAC reports, such as workforce shortages, coherent and aligned capital investment strategies, and tackling trust deficits.
As part of the preparation for COVID-19 “to protect the NHS and save lives” the Government provided significant additional funding to the NHS, including writing off £13.4bn of loans.
But this, and funding for specific staffing and other support, do not address the underlying issues of the NHS financial sustainability the PAC has been highlighting for years – alongside reports on the increasingly poor performance against waiting times standards for A&E and cancer, and on the growing waiting lists for elective treatments.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The Government conducted a large pandemic practice exercise in 2016 but failed to prepare. The previous Committee warned on the lack of plans to ensure access to medicines and equipment in the social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit, but, again, the Government failed to prepare. There must be total focus now on where the problems were in procurement and supply in the first wave, and on eradicating them.
“The pandemic has thrown the deep, long-term underlying problems in NHS capital and financial management into stark relief. There is no room and must be zero tolerance for allowing the underlying funding problems to continue.”