A care home manager has described the difficulties in sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) as a new London-wide procurement scheme is launched to provide kit for frontline workers at risk from coronavirus.
The partnership among all of the capital’s councils aims to distribute more than 48 million items of PPE kit in the next 12 weeks.
The emergency supplies, which began being delivered last week, will be prioritised for the under pressure social care sector.
Chani Bhasin, manager at the Whitefriars Residential Home in Southall, west London – one of the homes benefiting from the new scheme, said the arrival of coronavirus pandemic and loss of life had brought “devastation” for staff and families.
She said five residents had died after displaying suspected coronavirus symptoms.
With the backing of families, the home quickly went into lockdown, but this meant some had to say goodbye to relatives over the phone.
“It did feel at times that we were very alone, especially when we lost a few of our residents,” Ms Bhasin said.
She added: “I had to hold my mobile phone close to two, three residents and the families had to say goodbye on FaceTime.
“I’ve never done that before and knowing that the person was actually going to go within the next few hours, I think that will stay with me for a while.”
Ms Bhasin praised the “phenomenal” support from the local Ealing Council in accessing PPE supplies.
She said the only item the home initially struggled to source was hand sanitiser, with it being “impossible” to get hold of before the council helped out.
Ms Bhasin urged the Government not to release the lockdown “too early” and highlighted that the home was still facing difficulty finding gowns and specialist equipment for a high needs resident.
“The equipment for high needs residents isn’t available so we’re forever having to chase,” she said.
“That’s really difficult at times for us to get it, we’re still not 100% with it.”
More than 12,500 people living in care homes have died with Covid-19 in England and Wales during the crisis, with concerns being raised over shortages of PPE for staff.
Gurjit Satia, director at Whitefriars Residential Home, said he was “having to jump through the same hoops over and over” to get just three or four days’ worth of specialist kit from the NHS that the council and other suppliers cannot currently provide.
The new collaboration between the London boroughs builds on the supply chain established by the West London Alliance of councils.
This initial shared procurement programme has seen more than 9.6 million PPE items distributed since the start of the pandemic.
The expansion to include all 32 of the capital’s boroughs and the City of London will strengthen their access to kit and reduce their reliance on the Government’s emergency stocks.
The expansion is co-ordinated by Haringey Council, with Ealing Council acting as the lead supply borough.
Cllr Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council, said it took action to buy equipment early in the crisis as it was not getting Government PPE supplies “quick enough or in sufficient quantities”, with care homes “living a hand-to-mouth existence”.
“We started to really aggressively try and source PPE from wherever we could find it because we knew lives depended on this,” he added.
Cllr Bell said most of care homes in Ealing and west London now had more than five days’ supply of PPE.
He said kit was coming in from local sources and from around the world, including shipments from Uganda and China.
Cllr Bell said the council had prosecuted a company for supplying “very poor quality” face masks, which did not make it out to the front line on the Ealing supply route, and would ensure that all kit was of the proper standard.
He appealed to the Government for more money to support councils as they face funding shortfalls.
The procurement scheme is being supported by the London Strategic Co-ordination Group (SCG) – the central authority co-ordinating the efforts of public bodies in London to respond to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Over 7.5 million items of PPE have already been delivered by the London Fire Brigade to primary care services and other partners on behalf of the SCG.
Last month, the Local Government Association (LGA) warned that social care workers and council service staff were risking their lives keeping services going due to a “chronic” lack of PPE.
The LGA claimed the Government’s Clipper system, intended to provide a central hub for the supply and distribution of PPE, had faced delays.
But the Government said there were no delays in setting up the online portal and that millions of items had already been distributed via local resilience forums.
At the end of April, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the system was being trialled in care homes and general practice and would be rolled out in the coming weeks.
London local authorities’ new partnership in the capital aims to complement national supply lines.