Coronavirus: Government 'has 8,000 offers from PPE suppliers'

Medical staff in PPEImage source, PA Media

The government has had more than 8,000 offers from suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) and is prioritising those of "larger volumes", Downing Street has said.

It comes after Labour MP Rachel Reeves said "lots" of firms who offered to produce PPE had heard "nothing back" from the government.

The PM's spokesman said safety and quality standards have to be met.

No 10 said it was "working hard" with international partners to acquire PPE.

It follows mounting criticism of the government over concerns about supply of protective gear for NHS staff.

And an organisation representing UK dentists says dentists in England are facing "critical shortages" in personal protective equipment (PPE).

The type of PPE required depends on the level of risk. Guidelines recommend that anyone working within 2m (6ft) of a confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patient should wear an apron, gloves, a surgical mask and eye protection.

Clinicians carrying out tasks that could generate airborne droplets of saliva loaded with the virus should use an even higher standard of protection, including disposable gowns, filtering respirators and face-shielding visors.

On Tuesday, a Downing Street spokesman said: "We are working as hard as we can with international partners to bring PPE in and at the same time trying to increase domestic supply."

The government had been "very honest" about the "challenges in supply of PPE", the spokesman said, and the "problems in ensuring it gets to the right place at the right time".

The spokesman also said it was "not true" that the government had ignored one supplier, Veenak, saying "they registered the offer on 5 April and would have got an immediate response".

Asked about the consignment of PPE from Turkey, which was due to arrive on Sunday, he said the government was "continuing to work to ensure this shipment is delivered as soon as it is ready".

Earlier, Ms Reeves, a Labour shadow cabinet minister, tweeted a copy of a letter she sent to cabinet minister Michael Gove on Saturday to express concern about PPE during the coronavirus outbreak.

She went on to tweet that the letter had prompted manufacturers to contact her with concerns that they had not had a response from the government.

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In her letter, she said there was a "huge desire" within the UK's textile's industry to help provide protective gear.

"It is therefore concerning that the government has not been taking advantage of this," she wrote.

"I was particularly concerned to hear industry fears that the government had favoured engaging with major fashion and clothing brands for the production of PPE, over companies that may have been better placed to manufacture what is needed as quickly as possible."

Fashion retailers in the UK, including Burberry, Barbour and David Nieper, have reopened factories to help boost supplies.

On Monday, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers - which represents healthcare trusts across England - said there was "no doubt" some hospital trusts were already experiencing shortages of gowns.

He said that while the 400,000 gowns from Turkey would be welcome, NHS staff were getting through approximately 150,000 gowns a day.