'Embarrassing': MP delivers crucial locally-made PPE to hospice as shortages continue

Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel has delivered 40 locally-made visors to a hospice run by charity Sue Ryder as he described shortages in the sector as “embarrassing”.

Labour’s Mr Sobel made the delivery to Wheatfields Hospice in Headingley, Leeds, but he said not one care provider he had spoken to had yet received personal protective equipment (PPE) from official channels.

He said: “I delivered 40 pieces of PPE equipment to Wheatfields Hospice in my constituency. The visors were provided not by the Government but by a local party member who has been working in his workshop, trying to supply where he can.

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“There are many people, trying where they can to fill the void left by the Government, providing protection to those in our hospice and care sector as well as GPs and the wider NHS.”

MP Alex Sobel delivering PPE to Wheatfields Hospice. Photo: Alex SobelMP Alex Sobel delivering PPE to Wheatfields Hospice. Photo: Alex Sobel
MP Alex Sobel delivering PPE to Wheatfields Hospice. Photo: Alex Sobel | other

Care minister Helen Whateley said today that there has been a “global scramble for PPE” and distributing it to care providers and GPs has been a “massive logistical effort”.

She added: “It is a precious resource … we have to make sure it is used when you need it to either protect a member of the workforce or protect a patient, because people have been crying out wanting to use PPE all the time for everything and actually that is not the best way.”

She also admitted that although she knew care workers had died after contracting the virus, she did not know how many.

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In a heated exchange with presenter Piers Morgan, Ms Whately said the latest information she had for NHS workers was that 19 had died, which Mr Morgan called “complete and utter nonsense”.

She added: “The data that has been reported to me of confirmed deaths of health workers is 19. We know that also some workers have died who work in social care and, I’ll be straight with you, we don’t have a figure for that.”

The comments come after a leaked Public Health England (PHE) document, seen by the BBC, shows national planning to reuse protective masks and gowns amid a “reduced ability to re-supply” PPE.

A draft document written by PHE and dated April 13 suggested solutions for “acute supply shortages” of PPE.

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“These are last-resort alternatives, but, given the current in-country stock and the reduced ability to re-supply, we are suggesting that these are implemented until confirmation of adequate re-supply is in place”, it said.

The plans suggested a series of “last-resort arrangements”, including buying “building” or “sportswear” eye protection with extensions to cover the side of the eyes if there are no available goggles or face shields, and using washable laboratory coats and patient gowns where there are no available disposable gowns or coveralls.

It also suggests re-purposing face masks using various disinfection or sterilisation methods, including steam and UV disinfection.

The document said some of the measures would need to be reviewed and approved by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

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Mr Sobel added: “It is completely embarrassing that it is down to individuals and small charities like Otley Maker Space to provide potentially life saving equipment to the care sector. The Government must make this a national priority and do whatever it takes to repurpose our manufacturing and supply every essential worker.

“Not a single care provider that I have spoken to have acquired PPE from the official lines and those that have been successful in finding some have had to spend hours sourcing it from anywhere and everywhere. I will keep doing what I can to help provide and make as much noise as possible before it is too late.”