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Unions call for ‘manufacturing army’ to make vital PPE

THE government must raise a “manufacturing army” to make personal protective equipment (PPE) which is vital to the safety of millions of key workers, leading trade unions urged today.

General union Unite, public service union Unison, doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) joined forces to tell the government to “unleash a national effort” to produce the equipment.

The mobilisation call is supported by employers’ groups including the British Printing Industries Federation, which said manufacturing capacity currently suspended or underutilised should be producing the desperately needed kit instead.

At Gaydon in the Midlands, vehicle manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover has already switched its prototype department to manufacturing 5,000 protective visors a week for NHS trusts.

The joint union statement said: “Skilled workers are desperate to play their part, using their engineering and manufacturing expertise to ramp up production, under license from existing manufacturers that simply can’t cope with demand or secure essential supplies given the unprecedented demands on raw materials and components.” 

Unite’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing, Steve Turner, said: “We have plants and people standing idle and underutilised when they could be put to great use in defence of the public’s health. 

“Government must now move from soundbite to action and put out a ‘call-to-arms’ to existing providers, materials suppliers and manufacturers. 

“Temporarily addressing manufacturing restrictions based on copyright, patent or intellectual property, we could have a manufacturing army up and running, producing a range of PPE and essential supplies, in a matter of days.”

Mr Turner said British manufacturing had been able to “pull together” in the national interest to produce urgently needed medical ventilators, and union members at the Royal Mint were producing medical visors. 

“Further, Friday’s call across Northern Ireland saw over 100 companies responding positively to produce everything from hand sanitiser to medical scrubs,” he added.

“[And] a call from the Australian government last week saw 130 manufacturing companies step up to produce everything from hand sanitiser, visors and face masks, to goggles, gloves, surgical gowns, mask fit test kits and thermometers.

“There is no reason why we cannot ramp up production across Britain — with government planning and co-ordination between those coming forward to provide lifesaving PPE for all, from our NHS to local government, food manufacturing to parcels delivery. Unite’s members stand ready to deliver — government must now make the call.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the government must put out a “call-to-arms” to existing providers, materials suppliers and manufacturers.

“NHS and care staff are doing vital jobs looking after us all, but the work they do mustn’t put them at risk,” he said.

“There must be a nationwide effort with government and manufacturers all doing their bit so public service workers can get the equipment they need.”

BMA deputy chairman Dr David Wrigley said: “Doctors, healthcare workers and carers are risking their lives day-to-day in the battle against Covid-19.

“With Britain’s health workers enduring severe shortages and suffering a postcode lottery in the supply of vital protective equipment, the government has a moral duty to do everything in its power now to protect doctors and protect patients.”

The GP said with the country “in the grip of the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes,” it was important to “unleash the brilliance” of Britain’s manufacturing workers to alleviate the critical shortage of PPE and protect doctors.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Weeks into this crisis, it is completely unacceptable that nursing staff, wherever they work, have not been provided with PPE.

“I am hearing from nurses who are treating patients in Covid-19 wards without any protection at all. This cannot continue. They are putting themselves, their families and their patients at risk.

“We will not accept anything less than aprons, gloves and masks for all staff, in all settings. But this is a minimum — and that is why we are so disappointed that even that level of protection has yet to be provided.”

The call came as two more nurses — Areema Nasreen and Aimee O’Rourke — died after contracting the virus.

Downing Street confirmed on Thursday that more than 26.7 million units of PPE had been delivered to 281 NHS “trusts and providers” in England.

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