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MPs have asked the government to produce a plan of how it will procure “a predictable supply” of personal protective equipment (PPE) by September 2020, ahead of any second COVID-19 wave.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also criticised NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) for failing to publish its “long-awaited ‘people plan’”.
The report ‘NHS capital expenditure and financial management’ published on 8 July 2020 comes after a survey of 445 pharmacists, conducted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, revealed that one in three were unable to access PPE between 14 and 20 April 2020.
The PAC said it was “extremely concerned by the widely reported shortages of PPE faced by NHS and care workers” during the pandemic.
“The Department [of Health and Social Care (DHSC)] says that, nationally, it never ran out PPE stock, but that COVID-19 had put supply chains and distribution networks under unprecedented strain,” the report said.
“It tells us that this required substantial changes to how the system managed distribution and posed great challenges getting the available equipment to the right place at the right time.”
They added that despite claims from the DHSC that it is building stocks to meet long-term demand, “we were not convinced that it was treating the matter with sufficient urgency”.
As a result, the PAC recommended the DHSC “write to the Committee within two months to clarify its governance arrangements and outline at what point in the future it expects to have a predictable supply of stock and ready access to PPE supply within the NHS and care sectors”.
“It is absolutely vital that the same problems do not happen again in the event of a second wave,” the report said.
Claire Anderson, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Pharmacy Board, said: “The surge in COVID-19 in Leicester shows how important it will be to maintain adequate supplies of PPE and rapid access to testing.
“If we’re looking ahead to a potential second wave combined with winter pressures, we must have the right contingency plans in place so that pharmacy teams and all health and care workers are able to support patients safely.”
The PAC also recommended the DHSC look into integrating “training and education funding models with service planning and delivery” to improve investment in the NHS workforce and their training.
NHSE&I “has yet to publish its long-awaited ‘people plan’ and there is a continued lack of long-term investment in people and training, which is not helped by the lack of alignment across the Department, NHSE&I and Health Education England”, the report said.
It added that a “clear line of accountability” was needed and recommended the DHSC “review the effectiveness of having a separate body overseeing the planning and supply of the NHS’s future workforce” by December 2020.
The ‘NHS people plan’ was expected to be published in late 2019 following the government’s next spending review, with the interim plan — published in June 2019 — suggesting Health Education England and NHS England “explore development” of a foundation training programme for pharmacists.