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Coronavirus: Sharing Northern Ireland's PPE with England right thing to do, says Swann

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Robin Swann has furnished NHS in England with 250,000 surgical gowns

Robin Swann has furnished NHS in England with 250,000 surgical gowns

Michael Cooper

Robin Swann has furnished NHS in England with 250,000 surgical gowns

Health Minister Robin Swann's decision to share personal protective equipment (PPE) with England to help cope with the coronavirus pandemic has split opinion.

Last night the move was criticised by the health workers' union Unison, while one leading Belfast doctor said he had no concerns over the decision and compared it to local general practices sharing equipment, but on a much larger scale.

Addressing the Assembly's Covid-19 Committee yesterday, Mr Swann said that the UK was working closely as part of the 4 Nations PPE Plan and admitted sending 250,000 gowns to England over the past two weeks as part of the sharing of PPE.

He added that the supplies will be immediately reimbursed once England's own stocks arrived, and said that England and Wales acted quickly to help Northern Ireland when he reported a serious shortage of eye protective equipment.

The Health Minister also highlighted the 5.6 million items of PPE that the UK Government has already sent to the province.

"So I make no apologies for sharing our stock, because when we need some the other UK nations are not reluctant to share theirs," he continued.

Commenting on Mr Swann's announcement, Unison's regional secretary Patricia McKeown said that if we didn't have a sufficient stockpile of PPE then "we shouldn't be sending it anywhere else".

"The general secretary of Unison, Dave Prentis, has a statement out today expressing extreme concern at the fact that the English health service is planning to find ways to decontaminate and reuse PPE," she explained.

"That clearly indicates that, for all the talk that we have heard, either from the Westminster Government or from our own people, there is not sufficient supply."

She added that Unison's major concerns surround the shortage of PPE in residential care, nursing homes and in the community for home care, as well as the lack of Covid-19 testing.

"There has been a lot of talk and a lot of promises about testing but it's not being delivered in any quantity whatsoever," said Ms McKeown.

"All of this stems from a fatally flawed mistake made by the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when they hitched their wagon to the English health service and decided to take their instructions centrally from a Government that was weeks behind where it should have been in its approach to this virus and it has put us all in danger." Ms McKeown said that if the PPE shared with England is later deemed to be surplus to requirements, that was understandable, but complained over the "lack of transparency".

Praising the information handed out by the South Eastern Trust regarding patients suffering from coronavirus, she feels that the same must be done right across Northern Ireland.

"Given the reaction we have seen from so many health service staff over the last three weeks, it just seems incredible that we're able to have such generosity of spirit," she said.

Meanwhile, west Belfast GP Dr George O'Neill stated that he has no objections to sharing PPE supplies with other healthcare bodies and described it as a "quid pro quo", as England and Wales has helped our own health system during the pandemic.

"It's on a larger scale as to what happens in general practice," he said.

"What happens in hospitals and hospital wards where somebody has a problem, others will rally round and try and support them.

"I think that's an example of the goodwill that people have.

"The priority is to protect staff, protect patients and ensure that everybody comes through this well.

"In general practice, we would share PPE with our colleagues if they're short, so that would be the norm."

Dr O'Neill highlighted that Mr Swann delivered on his promise to supply general practices with PPE after deliveries were made yesterday.

"He's also promised to set up an inquiry to look at the logistic problems," he added.

"There has been some very impressive stuff where people ordered PPE two days ago and it arrived today, whereas previously it might have taken two weeks.

"This is a good news story. It means we can protect our staff, our patients and ourselves.

"We need to know more detail about what has been shared and what has been returned."

Belfast Telegraph