Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab sought to reassure frontline staff about personal protective equipment (PPE) as a health boss said workers were having to cope with “hand-to-mouth” levels of supply.
Mr Raab told the daily Downing Street press conference: “We understand the importance of getting PPE to the front line whether it’s in care homes or the NHS.
“I think the strongest practical reassurance they will want and that we can give them is that over the Bank Holiday weekend over 16 million items were delivered and we are straining every sinew to roll them out even further and even faster.”
Earlier Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers in England which represents hospital trusts, said the number of gowns available to staff in some parts of the country was “very, very low”.
Some frontline staff have cited a chronic shortage of PPE, such as masks, since the pandemic took hold.
If everything had been flowing exactly as had been ordered and if all of the material had properly passed its safety test, there would not be an issueChris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers
Mr Hopson acknowledged there were some supply issues affecting staff, with the vast majority of gowns being imported from China.
He said the NHS ordered “a whole load of stock” weeks ago, but delays have been caused by the product sometimes failing safety tests, while other batches have been mislabelled, meaning the NHS has ended up with additional masks.
He told BBC Breakfast: “If everything had been flowing exactly as had been ordered and if all of the material had properly passed its safety test, there would not be an issue.
“This is all really hand-to-mouth in terms of gown delivery, and we need to get to a more sustainable supply.”
Mr Hopson said those trusts with a surplus were being asked to share their supplies with neighbouring trusts, while alternative gowns were being sourced from elsewhere.
Emergency supplies have also been delivered to those most in demand, Mr Hopson said.
He said: “The NHS has had about 10 weeks to prepare and actually the vast majority of preparations have gone extremely well.
“There is a range of personal protective equipment that needs to be delivered at the front line… nearly all of that material is flowing in the way that trusts would like.
“The bit where there’s a particular problem was gowns, where we know that over the last 72 hours some trusts have run critically low on gowns.
“No trust, as far as I’m aware, has actually run out but some of the stocks are very, very low.”