Policy Briefing: British Supply Chain to Resolve Lack of PPE


To deal with the increase demand coronavirus has on the NHS, the government has introduced measures to increase to the NHS frontline workforce;

  • Final year student doctors taking on roles as Foundation Year interims (FYi) later in the month of May
  • Final year student nurses receiving fast-tracked qualification
  • Retired healthcare professionals asked to join the workforce
  • Student volunteer schemes are well-established and have completed training programmes

The government has failed in its response to protect those currently working on the frontline with the UK having the highest number of health worker deaths in Europe. With the workforce due to increase, drastic government measures are required to protect the additional workforce.

Government actions

The Department of Health have created an NHS Supply Chain Co-ordination Ltd. They have developed a National Procurement Scheme that works to recruit and distribute NHS trusts. From the 1st May 2020, 170 different companies are working to produce PPE and sanitary equipment. 

The government published a document to educate larger manufacturing companies in producing a High-Volume PPE that meets the standards to be used in a clinical basis.

Why are we here?

Dependency on China and International Exports

The source of coronavirus was in the province of Wuhan, China and the first state to control the disease. 3M is one of the largest PPE providers internationally. Even though it is an American-based company, their largest production is in Shangai, China.

There is an international shortage of PPE. China is the biggest exporter in the world with it supplying 50% of the EU’s import. Before coronavirus, they had increased 12-fold the production of 3M mask production. While the world demand for PPE equipment has increased, the Chinese government had prioritised their production of PPE to their own national effort to control the virus.

The Chinese government had nationalised their manufacturing companies including 3M and N95 to protect its citizens and health workers. The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted our dependency’s’ on China and other countries as we are the 6th largest importer in the world.

Slow Response

The government were not forward-thinking with the struggles to recruit PPE overseas as there is an international shortage. The government should have reached out to British companies such as Adam Mansell, CEO UK Fashions and Textiles Association representing 2500 companies who highlighted ‘the overall response was slow’ and should have been in contact with sourcing directors sooner.

Policy Proposal: British Supply Chain

Even with the National Procurement Scheme, there still remains hundreds of large-sized companies not heard by the government in offering their services during this crisis. With the governments’ voluntary approach for companies to ‘step-up’ to produce PPE, it has shown to be inefficient to meet the needs of the health workers on the frontline to protect them from COVID-19. There is a national consensus by companies to play their part during this crisis. However, the country looks for leadership to tackle the PPE shortage.

During this crisis, we need to move away from our dependency of China and large international exports and establish a British supply chain to support our national PPE shortage.

I propose the introduction/utilisation of legislation that allow government to impose their will on British companies towards their capacity aspect for short periods of time during national emergencies/viral pandemics for the national benefit.

There are 20,000 companies from small start-ups to multinationals across engineering, manufacturing, technology and industrial sector of which 5000 are established to MadeUK. We are the 8th largest exporter of the world. Taking initiative by engaging with this potential national force will provide the safety to those NHS staff working on the frontline to tackle the disease.

The benefits of a British Supply Chain go beyond meeting the demands of PPE resources;

There is a National Consensus of businesses to play their part in the coronavirus pandemic. Providing a strategy could build national confidence.

  • It will move away our dependencies on Chinese/international import of PPE equipment.
  • Controlling the production of PPE allows us to adjust based on the ever-changing demand and nature coronavirus imposes (allows us to support the NHS during a second peak).
  • Moves investment from international into British businesses which can support the economy and reduce the number of furlough workers
  • Ensures safety standards of PPE and sanitary equipment are met to avoid failings of PPE procurement from Turkey
  • Provides a long-term solution that works in benefit to the NHS and the economy

This policy change provides a strategy to the changing demands of coronavirus as well as outline a clear protocol if another pandemic was to occur.

Hasnain is a 4th year medical student at the Univeristy of Sheffield. He is also currently the President of the Sheffield Medical Society where he runs a COVID-19 Volunteer Scheme, sending over 150 medical students to hospitals, GPs and NHS babysitting services across South Yorkshire. 

He tweets at @HazKhan07

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