Minutes of a meeting held between the Welsh Government and Wales’ local government leaders suggest that the Welsh NHS almost ran out of personal protective equipment on one day in mid-April.
The minutes on 17th April record that they were the day before facing a “PPE stock-out situation”, a reference to running out of stock of personal protective equipment.
“The PPE stock-out situation we were facing yesterday has been alleviated,” the minutes say. “200,000 masks were delivered by NHS Scotland last night and a further 1,000,000 were sourced for delivery today so Welsh Health Supplies have 1.2 Million in stock as of this afternoon.
“The next week will be challenging, so we need to ensure we share stock and don’t oversupply. [Welsh Health Supplies is] looking to do another push out on Tuesday. Forward stock is coming in and should then be available for the duration of the emergency’.”
The meetings with Wales’ local government leaders happen three times per week and Welsh Government Ministers join these meetings on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Welsh Health Supplies referred to is a formal body within the Welsh NHS and it’s run out of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.
On the same day as that meeting, local authority employers and trade union representatives, concerned about the severe pressures facing social and home care providers and care workers sent a joint letter to the Welsh Government.
The letter drew attention to a shortage of PPE and unclear official advice about its use. That lack of clarity had led to some care workers being told they only need to wear one set of PPE for multiple home visits.
The letter and minutes tally with increasing anecdotal evidence which suggests Welsh NHS and social care workers in both the public and private sectors are increasingly concerned about the lack of protective equipment for them.
When questioned by Nation.Cymru about Wales’ lack of stock, the Welsh Government referred only to the number of PPE items it had issued to NHS and social care staff.
In a briefing on Tuesday 21st April, Vaughan Gething said: “Healthcare workers face a disproportionate risk and that is why PPE is my number one priority.”
His answer raises the question of why, if PPE is his priority, the amount held in stock had run out only a few days before.
Asked at the briefing about whether there was an adequate supply of PPE for Wales, Mr Gething said: “We have enough stock for a few days due to mutual aid and UK Government supplies… We are looking to source masks and gowns this week.”
Nation.Cymru contacted UNISON Cymru about this issue and was sent a reply by Regional Manager Dominic MacAskill which said: “It is absolutely vital that all social care workers are properly protected as they go about their essential work during the pandemic.
“There is a duty on the Welsh Government to urgently ensure staff have all the protective equipment they need and for the guidance on the use of that equipment to be clear and indisputable.”
Daily reports from care staff to UNISON complain at the inadequacy of the equipment provided, the union said. They provided one worker’s photograph (left) which shows goggles they have been given to assemble which “look like they are out of a Christmas cracker”.
The union said the complaints are so worrying, and intends to undertake a survey of care workers across Wales so a comprehensive picture can be presented to the Welsh Government.
Nation.Cymru also contacted UNISON Wales and was sent a reply by Mark Turner, social care lead officer, who said: “The failure in the provision of appropriate PPE across social care in Wales is staggering and could cost lives.”
Responding to a survey of its members which showed nursing staff were being told to re-use PPE marked for one-time-only use by its manufacturers, a comment by Helen Whyley, director RCN Wales, on their website said: “Nursing staff in all healthcare settings across Wales are dealing with horrifying shortages of equipment.”
Conservative Shadow Health Minister Angela Burns commented: “When the pandemic started the Welsh Government reckoned they had about 13 weeks of PPE in stock but they have burnt through it in record time.”