Government pressured over 'significant shortfall' of PPE in the West Midlands

Ministers have acknowledged "supply issues" are leaving staff at West Midlands hospitals critically short of PPE.

Alok Sharma speaking at the Downing Street media briefing on Friday
Alok Sharma speaking at the Downing Street media briefing on Friday

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the region had been sent more than two million items of protective equipment but admitted that the Government urgently needed to address shortages.

It came after West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said hospitals were struggling to plan care for coronavirus patients due to "significant shortfalls" in PPE deliveries over the past week.

He said the Government had failed to keep its promise to supply the required amount of protective equipment.

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"It is a fact that what was expected to be delivered across all councils has not been delivered," Mr Street said.

"And last Saturday a very thorough piece of work went into Government on behalf of the seven [West Midlands council authorities] comparing what was expected against what has come, on each of the critical items.

"Politics aside, there were significant shortfalls.

"We have been promised further deliveries this week and some of them have come.

WATCH: Alok Sharma responds to E&S questions

"But the issue that makes the planning very difficult is you don't know what frequency they're going to come and what reliability they're going to come.

"It's also true to say that no local authority is prevented from buying whatever it wants, but there are cost implications from doing that."

Mr Sharma was pressed on the shortfall by the Express & Star at Friday's Downing Street press conference.

He said: "I'm aware of the supply issues that are being raised. There is a global supply issue. Everyone is trying to get access to PPE.

"We need to be on top of it. That is why we are working night and day in terms of making sure we procure more PPE but also to expand the manufacturing base in the UK itself."

Expected shortages of protective garments mean doctors and nurses will be asked to work without full-length gowns and to reuse items when treating coronavirus patients.

'Desperately low stock levels'

Hospitals, care homes and hospices across the region have struggled to get hold of PPE since the crisis began.

New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton has turned to local businesses to help boost supplies, while Birmingham City Council said its stock levels were running "desperately low".

Paulette Hamilton, the authority's health chief, told a West Midlands Combined Authority media briefing today: "The supply we received is significantly short for what we need.

"We are required to share out the allocation with primary care which includes GP surgeries, care staff and frontline workers.

"Our stock levels are running desperately low, we need more.

"We know the peak is yet to come, we need to protect the health and safety of our frontline workers."

Mayor Andy Street is concerned about PPE shortages

Mr Street said that since he put out a call to the region’s manufacturers and small businesses to help by making or donating protective clothing for carers and other frontline workers, 367 had responded, and 57 are now working with local authorities .

He said: "I'm very sure that in the next couple of days that will come to pass.

"It has been a remarkable reaction from businesses across the West Midlands."

Meanwhile Professor Yvonne Doyle, Public Health England's Medical Director, said the large number of Covid-19 cases in the West Midlands' was "expected" due to the region's high population density. "This is something that has been very closely watched," she added.

Mr Sharma announced the Government has set up a vaccines taskforce to accelerate the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

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