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DOZENS of British companies offering massive quantities of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS have been “ignored” by the government, Labour revealed today.
Shadow cabinet-office minister Rachel Reeves wrote to her government counterpart, Michael Gove, last weekend to express concern about the shortage of PPE for health and care workers.
Since then, 36 named firms had approached Labour to say their offers of PPE to the government “have not received a reply,” she said.
The shocking revelation came as the government announced that 69 NHS staff and 15 care workers have died of Covid-19.
Unions and frontline staff have repeatedly warned that a lack of PPE is putting them in danger.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed today that Britain is at the “peak” of the virus outbreak.
An additional 4,451 positive tests were recorded, taking the total to 133,495. There were also 763 more hospital deaths linked to the virus, with the total standing at 18,100.
In her letter to Mr Gove, Ms Reeves said the government needed to “strain every sinew” and “leave no stone unturned” in utilising the “untapped resources in UK manufacturing”.
Accepting the help of “just one, five or 10” of these firms would “go a long way and make a big difference” to NHS and care workers, she added.
Labour said that Issa Exchange Ltd in Birmingham had offered 250,000 aprons and masks. Network Medical Products in Ripon said it could provide 100,000 full-face visor shields per week.
Bristol-based The Appeal Group Ltd had offered 10,000 visors per week. Sheffield-based CQM Learning and Leicester firm RDD Creative each said they could provide 8,000 visors per day.
Fashion designer Bella Gonshorovitz and Sheffield firm Bones and Rozes Historical Clothing had offered to provide hundreds of medical gowns a week, while HPE Consultancy Ltd in Leeds offered to make masks, gowns, scrubs, hand sanitising gel, and ventilators.
During Prime Minister’s Questions today, de facto PM Dominic Raab said 8,000 British businesses had responded to the government’s call for help on PPE.
He said they had all received a response, with around 3,000 follow-ups where they had equipment meeting specifications and volume.
Mr Raab, standing in for PM Boris Johnson while he recovers from the coronavirus, said it was an “incredibly difficult and competitive international environment” to import PPE supplies.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that there was “a pattern emerging” of the government being “slow” on measures in response to the pandemic — including testing, sourcing PPE, and in locking down Britain.
Mr Raab replied: “I don’t accept his premise that we’ve been slow. We have been guided by the scientific advice, the chief scientific adviser, the chief medical officer, at every step along this way.
“If he thinks he knows better than they do with the benefit of hindsight, then that’s his decision, but that is not the way we have proceeded and it is not the way we will in the future.”
However the European Commission said today that Britain had been given “ample opportunity” since January 31 — Brexit Day — to join an EU scheme for bulk-buying ventilators, PPE, and lab supplies.
This has put the government under increased pressure after ministers insisted Britain only failed to take part due to “an initial communication problem” that apparently meant that they did not receive the invite.
Meanwhile PPE cargo — expected to include 400,000 surgical gowns — that was meant to arrive from Turkey on Sunday finally reached Britain in the early hours today.
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