An “uninterrupted” supply of personal protective equipment has been promised by the Government for health and social care workers in England as coronavirus cases rise.
The availability of such equipment, known as PPE, was a huge issue when the UK was hit by its first wave of the virus earlier this year, with much of the reliance on overseas manufacturers.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock admitted it had been a “massive challenge” to meet demand earlier in the pandemic.
This time round, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said four-month stockpiles of items like face masks, visors and gowns will be in place from November.
More than 32 billion items have now been purchased, the department said, adding that 70% of the expected demand for PPE will be met by UK manufacturers from December.
Before the pandemic, just 1% of PPE was produced in the UK, DHSC said.
Since February, more than 3.5 billion PPE items have been sent to the front line, including GPs, social care providers, community pharmacists, dentists and hospices, the department said.
The Government has published a new PPE strategy setting out what the department said was a “data-driven approach to building further resilience in the supply chain” to respond to rising infection rates.
Mr Hancock said: “At the start of the pandemic, meeting the huge demands for PPE was a massive challenge.
“That’s why we have worked every day since to ensure we have an uninterrupted supply to meet the challenges in the coming months and protect those who are protecting us.
“We have built robust and resilient supply chains from scratch and thanks to an absolutely phenomenal effort from UK businesses, almost three quarters of demand for PPE will soon be met by UK manufacturers.
“As we take every step to combat this virus we are setting out this plan to reassure our health and social care workers that they will have the PPE they need to carry out their tireless work.”
Lord Paul Deighton, the Government’s advisor on PPE, said ensuring the right equipment is available at the right time to protect frontline staff is a “critical” issue.
He said: “We have brought together a team that unites our procurement expertise and have overhauled the distribution network to rely less on overseas imports and more on our excellent businesses at home to ensure there is a reliable supply over the years to come.
“It has been an extraordinary effort by so many to get to this point but we will not lose our focus – the PPE strategy outlines how we are building further resilience in order to be ready for a new wave of infections in the autumn, winter or beyond.”