| 5.2°C Belfast

Coronavirus: Conor Murphy confirms joint PPE order with Republic 'not fulfilled'

Close

Finance Minister Conor Murphy during a daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Friday. Credit: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Finance Minister Conor Murphy during a daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Friday. Credit: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy during a daily media broadcast in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Friday. Credit: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has confirmed an order for PPE from China he announced last week as part of a cross-border initiative was "not fulfilled".

In a Stormont press conference on Friday afternoon, Mr Murphy said officials from the Republic of Ireland were forced to go ahead with an order for the equipment after global powers, including USA and India, entered the race for PPE, before a joint order was agreed with Northern Ireland.

"Yesterday afternoon, despite the best efforts of all involved, I received confirmation the order would not be fulfilled through this route," he said.

He said there is a possibility Northern Ireland might still receive some of the equipment on its way to the Republic.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Northern Ireland will receive over five million items of PPE from Great Britain.

Last week Mr Murphy said health authorities on both sides of the Irish border were jointly involved in the purchase of a "significant" amount of PPE from China.

But the Republic's Department of Health later confirmed no joint order was placed, although ministers for health and chief medical officers on both side of the border are in "close and regular contact".

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said on Friday: "We are ready to discuss any area where we can cooperate effectively, North and South, including on procurement of PPE and critical supplies," they said in a statement.

"In relation to procurement, while it has so far not proved possible to place a joint order in the context of what is an increasingly challenging international environment, discussions between procurement teams are ongoing and active, and it remains our intention to continue to cooperate in this area."

Speaking on March 27, Mr Murphy had said an agreement had been reached with Dublin.

He said: "We've today agreed that joint order with Dublin, there is procurement going on with the British system as well, but I think to be prudent we want to ensure that if the crisis that is coming our way becomes more severe in Britain and those supply lines across the Irish Sea start to dry up, that we have our own supplies.

"This is a joint effort with the Dublin Government, the order has been placed, so I can't give certainty in terms of the flights, but we obviously want to get it here as quickly as possibly."

On Tuesday, he mentioned the order in response to a question from the DUP's Paul Givan.

In a statement on Friday morning, the Department of Finance said: "In the last couple of weeks the finance minister has been assisting efforts to procure PPE and other supplies with both the Irish and British governments.

The task has become even more challenging with the US and India entering the market Department of Finance

"There is global demand for all these goods and equipment and the scale of the pandemic we face means this will necessitate multiple orders from a range of suppliers at home and overseas.

"We are sourcing the market for supplies locally, nationally and internationally in places including China. The task has become even more challenging with the US and India entering the market.

"We must all protect our frontline workers and the executive will be updated on the latest position on PPE later today."

Close

RCN chief Pat Cullen

RCN chief Pat Cullen

RCN chief Pat Cullen

Earlier Pat Cullen, Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Nursing, told the BBC's Nolan programme on Friday morning that nurses could not treat patients with coronavirus in intensive care if they do not have the correct protective equipment.

She said the college would be seeking legal advice on the issue of personal protective equipment and said nurses should not be asked to practice outside of their code of conduct, which requires them to wear the appropriate equipment.

While PPE is currently available and there are some supplies according to Ms Cullen, there is no guarantee it will be available when the coronavirus surge hits later this month.

"It's ad hoc in places, it's not at the level they require it and they've had to make numerous requests, and I've had access to their email trails, where they constantly request PPE and are told it's not available. I have absolutely no doubt that nurses are struggling," she said.

Come out and say we will always have the right level of PPE for you every shift you do Pat Cullen

Speaking in Stormont on Friday, Health Minister Robin Swann acknowledged the concerns around PPE and said his department is "aggressively chasing" supplies.

Ms Cullen said: "Come out and say we will always have the right level of PPE for you every shift you do. [Nurses] would be putting their patients at risk and they would be putting themselves at risk."

Meanwhile, concerns have been expressed about the quality of the most recent delivery of PPE from China to the Republic of Ireland.

The PPE, which has been distributed to Covid-19 test centres, mobile ambulance units and hospitals in the country is being described as "not fit for purpose" and "unusable" by medical staff.

RTE reported some new deliveries of PPE distributed this week contained protective gowns which are three-quarter length on the arm - rendering them unusable as they do not offer full protective cover.

Paul Reid, chief executive of the Republic of Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE), said the organisation is engaged worldwide to secure alternative stocks should these supplies not materialise to the extent that they expect.

He said: "It is a very competitive worldwide market but our procurement teams have done really well to secure what we have to date."

Belfast Telegraph