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Robin Swann defends sending England PPE despite fears over supplies in Northern Ireland


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Health Minister Robin Swann visits PPE distribution centre. Photo: Michael Cooper

Health Minister Robin Swann visits PPE distribution centre. Photo: Michael Cooper

Michael Cooper

Health Minister Robin Swann visits PPE distribution centre. Photo: Michael Cooper

Health Minister Robin Swann has not been able to say when Northern Ireland will receive a delivery of medical gowns to replace 250,000 sent to protect frontline medical staff in England.

The UUP MLA has said the gowns sent to England over the last fortnight will be "immediately reimbursed once their own stocks arrive".

However, he stopped short of providing an expected date of delivery.

He has also revealed that the Public Health Agency (PHA) is planning to issue guidance on the reuse of suitable visors and goggles in Northern Ireland.

Concerns have been raised over Northern Ireland's stock of personal protective equipment (PPE), with frontline staff working in the community in particular complaining of shortages.

Work has been done to address issues in the supply chain, but there are now fresh concerns about the safety of healthcare workers in light of the challenges facing NHS staff in England.

It emerged on Friday evening that a shortage of gowns in England was becoming so critical that health officials had drawn up guidance on how to reuse the PPE in the safest possible way.

At the time, former NI Health Minister Jim Wells raised concerns that the challenges facing the NHS in England may mean there will be a delay in replacing the 250,000 gowns provided by Northern Ireland.

And there were fresh concerns on Sunday after it emerged an expected delivery of gowns and other vital PPE to England from Turkey had been delayed.

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An 84-tonne shipment of PPE that was due to arrive to the UK from Turkey on Sunday has been delayed (Peter Byrne/PA)

An 84-tonne shipment of PPE that was due to arrive to the UK from Turkey on Sunday has been delayed (Peter Byrne/PA)

An 84-tonne shipment of PPE that was due to arrive to the UK from Turkey on Sunday has been delayed (Peter Byrne/PA)

Speaking on Sunday night, Mr Swann said: "The 250,000 gowns sent to England over the last two weeks will be immediately reimbursed once their own stocks arrive.

"But equally, when I recently reported a shortage of specific eye protective equipment, England and Wales acted quickly to help us.

"Northern Ireland benefits greatly from being part of the NHS family. This includes access to NHS supply chains and buying power for PPE, ventilators and other vital equipment.

"Northern Ireland would never be in a position to be self-sufficient in these crucial areas. Playing our part in mutual NHS arrangements is the right thing to do.

"We currently have sufficient stock of gowns and will be receiving circa 30,000 additional gowns in the coming weeks."

Mr Swann continued: "Guidance was issued on Friday by Public Health England with regard to reusing PPE.

"This guidance on the reuse of PPE is not implemented in Northern Ireland at this point, and if or when it might be required the Department will consider this, taking account of the national and scientific evidence, and will provide further advice at the appropriate time.

"Such consideration will be undertaken if required, and only following full engagement and in consultation with professional bodies and trade union representative organisations.

"The Department fully understand that staff on the frontline need reassurance.

"We believe updated guidance from April 2 and securing greater quantities of PPE for Northern Ireland will play a part in allaying concerns."

Mr Swann said concerns about PPE can be reported by emailing Covid-19PPE.queries@health-ni.gov.uk.

Belfast Telegraph