Belfast PPE store sees new demand from resuming healthcare services

One of Northern Ireland’s main PPE stores is adapting to changing demands as orders start to flow in from health services paused during the height of the pandemic.

The store on the grounds of the Belfast City Hospital site services all hospital and healthcare settings in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust area.

It currently has 1.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment in stock and processes 80 separate orders from different areas of the trust every day. Stock includes FFP3 masks, gowns, gloves, scrubs, aprons, surgical masks and hand sanitiser.

A PPE order is loaded onto a lorry outside the Belfast Trust’s central store (Liam McBurney/PA)

At the peak of the first wave of coronavirus infections, there were 130 orders were going out the door every day.

Diane Stewart, a quality improvement manager in the Belfast Trust – who was brought in to set up the operation, told the PA news agency that orders were now starting to come in from resuming services that had been paused over the last two months.

She said wards dealing with Covid-19 were not placing orders as frequently as they had done a number of weeks ago, as they had gradually built up their own stockpiles on site.

“There’s been a decrease as a result of people maybe having more supplies within their own ward and community areas,” she told PA.

“However, you do see perhaps some new orders coming now as services perhaps think about starting to resume again in some kind of format, so there will be a need going forward.

“I don’t imagine our orders will drop significantly below what they’re currently at at this moment in time as new services come on board.”

The store has around 1.5 million pieces of PPE in stock (Liam McBurney/PA)

What was a disused storeroom has been transformed into a fast-paced operation, with supplies going out the door as quick as they arrived in from consignments from the heath service’s Business Services Organisation (BSO).

It has just recently reduced down to a six-day schedule, having been operating seven days a week through most of the emergency.

A new online booking system was developed at the outset of the pandemic, and a digital infrastructure was installed in the building to provide the necessary network access.

Ms Stewart said the work within the store was “non-stop”.

The store processes around 80 orders a day (Liam McBurney/PA)

All the staff – five on the administrative side and 10 working on the floor – have been seconded from other parts of the trust.

Ms Stewart said the team spirit that had been forged in a short period of time had been key.

“We couldn’t have done it without the enthusiasm and the dedication of the team that we’ve got here today from all sorts of backgrounds,” she said.

“This is not anybody’s day job, but people came in and all pulled together very well in order to make sure that the PPE distribution across the trust is as best as we can possibly make it.

“Nobody is precious in terms of what roles they undertake. Everybody just comes in and as the orders are delivered into our online system and then brought down to the floor for people to make up, everybody pulls together and gets it out.”

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