A four-month ‘strategic stockpile’ of PPE will be collected by the government to ensure that the UK can ‘respond rapidly’ to demand surges in the event of second COVID-19 this winter.
The DHSC has pledged to ‘improve the balance of PPE items used by GP practices’, while it has expanded the range of products surgeries can access via its PPE Portal system.
However, a PPE strategy document published today by the government fails to outline how practices will be compensated for PPE expenses incurred at the start of the pandemic - potentially leaving GPs out of pocket.
PPE supplies during the early stages of the pandemic presented a huge issue for the government as one in six GPs said that they 'rarely' or 'never' had sufficient PPE for safe contact with patients.
The latest strategy document sets out how the government is preparing for the second wave of COVID-19 alongside seasonal pressures such as flu.
Practices will now have access to a greater range of items, with the government announcing that it has expanded the PPE Portal product range to include aprons, gloves, type IIR masks, hand hygiene and visors.
Respirator masks and gowns will also be made available to practices by October. The government's PPE Portal was set up during the first wave of the pandemic to supplement ‘normal supply routes’.
The document says the government is 'listening to the reported practical difficulties with the use of some PPE experienced by women and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals, amongst others, and taking action to make sure user needs are adequately addressed in future provisions of PPE'.
A PPE usage survey of GP practices has also been carried out by the government to collect more information on ordering patterns and to determine what see what types of items are most needed.
PPE offered through the portal will be free of charge - but no details have been shared around how practices can claim back money spent on PPE during the pandemic to date. NHS England recently told practices that new plans for free PPE would be announced this week.
In June GPonline reported that GP practices were being left out of pocket as they picked up the cost of PPE needed to treat patients face-to-face in hot hubs.
Responding to the government’s PPE Strategy, NHS Confederation chief executive Danny Mortimer, said: ‘The distribution and availability of PPE to primary care and social care during the first wave of the virus was a significant concern for members and we now have the clarity of free access to PPE stockpiles.
‘It’s vitally important that stock gets to where it is needed in good time as we head towards what is expected to be a very challenging period particularly as unlike the first phase, the hope is that the NHS can continue to maintain as many services and routine procedures as possible. This is a much needed strategy but given the experience of the first peak, its success will be in its execution.’