GPs calling the new ‘emergency’ helpline to request personal protective equipment (PPE) have been redirected to their ‘usual suppliers’ to buy the items they need, our sister publication, Pulse, has learned.
NHS England announced last week that GPs can call its 24/7 National Supply Disruption Response (NSDR) helpline to request emergency 72-hour deliveries of PPE to fill ‘gaps’ in distribution.
However, GPs across the country have told Management in Practice’s sister publication, Pulse, that the helpline staff have asked them to contact their local supplier to buy the PPE they need, rather than being provided it free of charge.
A spokesperson for NHS England said that the helpline ‘is servicing any urgent immediate short-term needs’.
But Braintree GP partner Dr Sanjeev Maskara said that when he contacted the helpline, he was ‘advised to order through the suppliers first’.
He added: ‘I called them today after seeing the Pulse article for PPE – they said that they have delivered to us on 9 March. I checked with my nursing staff – we had gloves, flimsy masks and ordinary roll of gowns – no proper PPE.
‘When I asked for PPE, I was asked to contact our local supplier – to buy from them.’
And Debra Spencer, business partner at a practice in Bristol, said that she too was asked to buy her own PPE when she called the emergency helpline to request a delivery.
She contacted the helpline yesterday morning because her practice’s PPE is ‘likely to run out this week’, she said.
Ms Spencer added: ‘Unfortunately, the helpline advice is they can “request” the PPE from PHE but they cannot guarantee it will actually be sent to us in GP practices.’
A GP partner from Sussex, who wished to remain anonymous, told Pulse that they have called the helpline number four times ‘over the last few days’ and also been advised to first ‘buy PPE from our usual suppliers’.
They added that they were then advised to obtain PPE from the NHS Supply Chain but were informed that it has ‘stopped opening new accounts’ when they tried to register and were redirected back to the NSDR helpline.
After being ‘escalated’ to the Commercial and Procurement Cell (CPC) by the helpline, the GP partner was also told that the request ‘may be filled if the items are available’, they said.
They have since said they have received a pack of disposable eye protectors.
They said: ‘This was part of the individual request for eye protection and gowns that I made to the CPC Team. No eye protection whatsoever was included in the standard GP PPE delivery that we received on 11 March – only plastic aprons, gloves and basic masks.
‘I think most GPs feel that the PPE supplied by the NHS is not adequate, especially when you have to see very unwell patients or perform resuscitation. The concern is that adequate PPE is still not in place as GPs and other community HCPs and carers are starting to work in “hot” sites and attend to palliative COVID cases who are being managed at home or in residential care.’
They added: ‘It is significantly more difficult to arrange urgent PPE than the Government, the NHS and CCGs are suggesting. Practices are relying on the goodwill of local businesses and schools in many cases.
‘It is demoralising and frustrating to find that adequate arrangements are not already in place and that the guidance and advice we are repeatedly being given is not reflected in the reality of the situation – even after concerns have been “listened to” and “escalated” numerous times over.’
GPs also took to Twitter to express their concerns about the ‘emergency’ PPE helpline.
Dr Steve Kell, GP partner at Larwood Health Partnership in Worksop, tweeted that the NSDR helpline ‘isn’t working’.
He told Pulse: ‘We are being told to go through normal old routes and [there is] no supply.’
GP and Gateshead clinical lead for diabetes at NHS Newcastle Gateshead CCG Dr Becky Haines also tweeted that her practice manager has been unsuccessfully attempting to register for the NHS Supply Chain for 24 hours.
GP Dr John Hughes shared a photo of the ‘insulting token’ his practice received as its PPE delivery.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘The Department of Health and Social Care has secured millions more items of personal protective equipment which is going out to frontline staff and family doctors, and we are working on distributing even more stock to GPs as well as releasing additional PPE equipment to leading wholesalers that routinely supply to practices.
‘In the meantime, for practices that are not able to get hold of stock via their usual wholesalers, the NSDR helpline is servicing any urgent immediate short-term needs.’
It comes as deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries admitted in last night’s coronavirus press conference that she was too optimistic when she claimed earlier this month that the problems around PPE had been ’completely resolved’.
She said: ‘I have to admit, I stood here about ten days ago and said probably very optimistically that we had solved the PPE position. My apologies – because 48hrs later our distribution issue had popped back in again.
‘There have been some distribution issues [but] we are developing an e-system so that will make it much easier, for example for care homes, to have that.’
She added: ‘The UK has always had sufficient stocks to date that it needs against its guidelines and those guidelines are among the best in the world.’
PPE deliveries ‘should go to match where the critical clinical risk is’ and be ‘proportionate’ to exposure, Dr Harries said.
She reiterated that the current PPE guidance is under review to make ‘small tweaks to ensure that people feel safer’.
Public Health England has said it is working on updating its guidance on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and is expecting to publish the results later this week.
The BMA has sought clarification from the Government on what risk doctors are expected to take when caring for patients without adequate PPE.