Coronavirus: Government accused of ignoring offers to produce PPE amid row over delayed shipment from Turkey
Labour leader warns of 'increasing gap' between government view of what is happening and reality
The government has been accused of ignoring offers to produce vital protective equipment as a Tory minister was unable to say when a delayed shipment from Turkey would arrive in the UK.
Labour‘s Rachel Reeves said she had been “inundated” by calls from British manufacturers who have contacted the government offering to make personal protective equipment (PPE) to allow medics to safely treat coronavirus but have heard nothing back.
Her concern was echoed by Sir Keir Starmer, the party’s leader, who warned of an “increasing gap” between what the government believes is happening and the reality on the frontline.
Reports have emerged of UK firms being forced to sell lifesaving gear abroad because their offers of help had been repeatedly ignored.
It comes as local government minister Simon Clarke was unable to say exactly when a consignment of PPE would arrive from Turkey which was expected to come on Sunday. An RAF aircraft was dispatched to collect supplies of 400,000 gowns on Monday after unexpected delays.
Ministers are facing sustained criticism over shortages of protective kit for frontline health workers, with the head of the Royal College of Anaesthetics telling The Independent that doctors should not treat patients without adequate PPE.
Ms Reeves, the shadow cabinet office minister, said British businesses had offered to make protective equipment and clothing, particularly gowns, but they had not received a response from the government.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Some of them are doing it on an ad-hoc basis for local hospitals or care homes, but this needs to be systematic – it needs to be a national effort, using all of our manufacturing and textile capacity and capability to ensure that the doctors and nurses and care workers ... have that equipment and clothing that they need.”
The Labour MP said there had been “too much focus” on importing PPE from overseas and that there had not been enough focus on bringing smaller suppliers into the national effort.
“It is a disgrace that we’ve got people working on the frontline who aren’t properly protected and government’s first and foremost responsibility is to protect its citizens, and this now is our main priority.”
“It would be a struggle for any government to get exactly the right kit to the right place at the right time,” Sir Keir told the BBC.
“But what we’re seeing here is an increasing gap between what the government says or thinks is happening and what the front line of telling us.
“This gap has to be closed as soon as possible because people are putting their lives literally on the line when they go to work.”
Alan Jones, who runs factories in China which make electronics, said he first approached the government almost three weeks ago to offer help with PPE.
The St Albans-based businessman told The Independent: “It’s very frustrating, we want to help, we have the skills to make this happen but I don’t have the demand to be able to go and ask my factories to get going.
“Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect there are others out there being ignored and not given the chance to make a difference.”
Mr Jones added: “If I had instant responses from anybody two and a half weeks ago, [the PPE] would be ready now and would be on it’s way here, if not here already. Every day that goes by is wasted time.”
On Saturday, cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said 84 tonnes of PPE, including 400,000 gowns, would arrive in the UK from Turkey the next day but the shipment has not materialised.
Pressed on whether the RAF aircraft was returning with the PPE, Mr Clarke said: ”I can’t speak to that, I’m afraid. All I know is it set off last night.
“It will be with us obviously in the UK in the next few days, which is the core priority.”
Mr Clarke said there is a “standing presumption” that the government will do its utmost to buy protective gear ”wherever it can be sourced” and urged manufacturers to “reach out” to the Cabinet Office to log their ability to make equipment.
Meanwhile, Ravi Mahajan, the RCOA president, said his organisation would support medics who feel unsafe to treat patients.
He said: “What we are advising our members is that you have to take stock of everything. Your health, the patients, the compromises that you may have to make, are they safe enough?
“Take the whole picture into account. And then if your decision is, I can’t provide this treatment at this time, then we would support you.”
Over half (54 per cent) of dentists in England said PPE shortages are hampering efforts to treat patients at urgent dental care hubs, according to a survey of 1,010 UK dentists by the British Dental Association (BDA).