A cross-party group of MPs has criticised the government failing to have a ‘clear understanding’ of the PPE equipment needed for health and care workers, or how to distribute it.
The influential public accounts committee (PAC) has published a new report today, which says the government is still not treating a shortage of PPE with ‘sufficient urgency’.
The report adds it is ‘absolutely vital’ that the same problems do not happen again in the event of a second wave.
And it warns ‘uncertainty still prevails’ around future provision of local PPE across the health and social care sectors.
The committee has called on the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to outline when it expects to have a predictable supply of stock and ready access to PPE supply within the NHS and care sectors.
This should include detail on the roles and responsibilities for the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment across NHS and social care settings.
The committee also says the NHS now needs a coherent plan for how it will function after the peak of the COVID-19 crisis.
The crisis cannot be used as an excuse not to address long-standing issues, highlighted in previous PAC reports, such as workforce shortages, coherent and aligned capital investment strategies, and tackling trust deficits.
As part of the preparation for COVID-19 ‘to protect the NHS and save lives’ the government provided significant additional funding to the NHS, including writing off £13.4bn of loans.
But this, and funding for specific staffing and other support, do not address the underlying issues of the NHS financial sustainability the PAC has been highlighting for years – alongside reports on the increasingly poor performance against waiting times standards for A&E and cancer, and on the growing waiting lists for elective treatments.
‘The government conducted a large pandemic practice exercise in 2016 but failed to prepare,’ said committee chair, Meg Hiller.
‘The previous committee warned on the lack of plans to ensure access to medicines and equipment in the social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit, but, again, the government failed to prepare. There must be total focus now on where the problems were in procurement and supply in the first wave, and on eradicating them.
‘The pandemic has thrown the deep, long-term underlying problems in NHS capital and financial management into stark relief. There is no room and must be zero tolerance for allowing the underlying funding problems to continue,’ added the chairman.
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