Trusts need certainty on gowns delivery and focussing on individual consignments is unhelpful

19 April 2020

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said today:

"No-one in the NHS wanted to be where we now are on gowns, with a significant number of trusts reporting critically low stocks.

"We have, over the last 24 hours, seen an unhelpful focus on one individual consignment coming from Turkey. We are told that this consignment is still stuck in Turkey with no certainty, at the time this comment was issued, on how many gowns, if any, will leave for the UK, when.

"Bitter experience over the last few weeks has shown that until a consignment of gowns has landed, the boxes have been checked and the equipment tested, the NHS can’t count on the gowns being available for use at the frontline.

"We understand, for example, that a consignment of 200,000 gowns that arrived from China last week actually contained only 20,000 gowns. This follows previous instances of consignments of gowns being mislabelled and failing safety tests.

"Everyone is keen to move to a sustainable supply of gowns as soon as possible but NHS trusts need certainty. Given the current uncertainties over gown manufacture and supply, due to global shortages, we suggest that any future announcements on what gowns might be available for delivery, when, just focus on what we can be certain of.

"On the current position in trusts, it is important to understand what ‘running out of gowns’ means. Usually it doesn’t mean that no member of staff in that trust has access to a fluid repellent gown or higher levels of protection than a basic apron.

"Trusts tell us that they are adopting a number of different approaches to address current shortages. These include concentrating the use of fluid repellent gowns in areas of highest risk such as intensive and critical care and using fluid resistant, as opposed to fluid repellent, coveralls with an additional apron, in line with the advice issued on Friday.

"Trust leaders have asked us to publicly thank the fire and police services, vets, local councils, DIY stores, builders’ merchants and others who have donated their supply of gowns and coveralls, many of them fluid repellent, over the last few days. For example one trust we spoke to this afternoon had secured 2,000 fluid repellent gowns from a local vet supply firm and another had secured 3,000 washable gowns from a local business that they were looking to adapt for NHS use.

"In the words of one chief executive on Twitter: “I cannot even begin to describe how hard NHS CEOs are working to organise, share and best use each piece of PPE we have. We are only sorry we can’t do more to protect our amazing people."