Coronavirus: Suppliers 'not asked' to divert PPE to England

  • Published
Media caption,
The first minister said the reports were being investigated

Scotland's health secretary has received assurances that PPE suppliers were not asked to prioritise England over Scotland.

Jeane Freeman, along with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, had expressed concern that care home workers north of the border could be losing out.

Ms Freeman later said she was grateful for the assurances given by the UK's health secretary.

But she also asked that any misunderstanding by firms be resolved.

The row developed as it was revealed another 40 people with Covid-19 had died in Scotland and the number of confirmed cases had risen by 291, to stand at 6,358.

The number of patients being treated in intensive care, however, has fallen by 15, to 196.

At Ms Sturgeon's daily briefing, she promised to seek urgent clarity on reports that Scottish care homes were being given a lower priority for supplies of personal protective equipment.

Four-nation approach

Claims of PPE priority for England surfaced on Monday and came from Donald Macaskill, the head of Scottish Care, which is the body representing private care homes in Scotland.

He told BBC Radio Scotland the UK's four largest suppliers had said they were not sending to Scotland and instead prioritising "England, the English NHS and then English social care providers".

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock spoke to Ms Freeman and other health ministers from the different UK nations on Tuesday afternoon and insisted this was not the case.

The UK government said it had not instructed any company to prioritise PPE for one nation over the others.

A spokesman added: "Through this four nation approach, we're working closely with the devolved administrations to coordinate the distribution of PPE evenly across the UK."

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The first minister acknowledged during her Tuesday briefing that there was no clear evidence PPE was being diverted, but she wanted to be given "assurances".

Ms Sturgeon insisted that if the usual supply of equipment to care homes in Scotland was being disrupted then that would be "completely unacceptable".

She told the media: "All parts of the UK right now are facing supply challenges on PPE, indeed this is a global issue.

"Any situation where supplies were being diverted from one part of the UK to another without consultation or any sense of co-operation would clearly be unconscionable and unacceptable."

Image source, Gompels
Image caption,
The Gompels website shows restrictions on some products

In a letter sent following her call with Matt Hancock, Scotland's health secretary said she was grateful for the reassurances.

However, Jeane Freeman also highlighted one company - Gompels - which stated on its website that Public Health England restrictions meant it could not send supplies to Scotland and Wales.

She said this presented a "contradiction and potential difficulty" and asked Mr Hancock to resolve the matter - which she said could be the result of a misunderstanding - so that Gompels could continue to supply care homes in Scotland.

'We think it's rubbish'

The suggestion of PPE being diverted to England from Scotland had earlier in the day been dismissed by the Scottish government's clinical director.

Prof Jason Leitch, speaking on the Good Morning Scotland programme, said: "We have looked into it and we think it's rubbish.

"So the companies, and our colleagues at NHS England yesterday when we spoke to them, said it wasn't true.

"There's another element of this, though, that the English route for PPE is one of three routes that Scotland has access to PPE from.

"So we are in a four-country fight against this virus. Honestly, people might not believe me, but that four-countries' fight is pretty aligned."

In Scotland PPE comes from three sources;

  • UK-wide procurement
  • individual orders from overseas
  • and PPE made in Scotland.

Prof Leitch admitted there had been some issues in getting supplies distributed, in particular to those care homes that had not needed PPE in the past.

He added that the situation was being sorted "very, very quickly".

"I'm much more confident than I was even a week a go that that is now working," said the clinical director.

A statement released by the Department of Health and Social Care on Monday said: "PPE supplies are being coordinated at a UK-wide level and allocation made based on clinical need across the whole country, which ensures a planned and coordinated response to this global pandemic."