Coronavirus: NHS hospitals banned from stockpiling protective masks

NHS hospitals gearing up for a rise in patients with suspected coronavirus as outbreak leaves parts of Italy in lockdown

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Monday 24 February 2020 23:03 GMT
Parts of Italy have been put into lockdown after the country reported more than 220 cases of the coronavirus
Parts of Italy have been put into lockdown after the country reported more than 220 cases of the coronavirus (AFP via Getty)

NHS hospitals have been banned from stockpiling masks used to protect staff from the coronavirus infection amid fears of a shortage in supply, it has emerged.

As stock markets around the world plunged and parts of Italy remained in lockdown, NHS bosses confirmed on Monday that they have barred trusts from over-ordering respirator masks after some hospitals were said to be panic buying.

Hospitals have been warned that local stockpiling is unnecessary and, from Thursday last week, hospitals were only able to order their normal amount of masks.

Dentists and GPs have already experienced difficulties in buying masks direct from wholesalers who source the items from China, the centre of the outbreak where supplies have almost dried up.

NHS Supply Chain, the body that handles equipment stocks for NHS hospitals, said it is now imposing controls to “maintain continuity of supply across the network.”

The intervention comes amid fears that the Covid-19 virus could become a pandemic, with northern Italy hit by more than 220 cases and South Korea reporting more than 800 infections.

Hospitals in the UK are battling to prepare for a possible surge in the number of patients who may have the coronavirus.

All hospitals have been instructed to install standalone “pods”, costing up to £70,000, where patients can be assessed and given advice without going into A&E departments where they risk spreading the virus to already sick and injured patients.

A spokesperson for NHS Supply Chain said: “We have seen an increased demand for personal protective equipment products over the last two weeks as NHS trusts have put in place preparedness measures.

“As a result, NHS Supply Chain is implementing controls on excessive order quantities to ensure stocks are managed fairly for all of its customers.”

They added that while there was no shortage at the moment, “exceptionally large orders or unplanned stockpiling at a local level places unnecessary strain on the supply chain, and therefore we are having to manage any adverse ordering patterns from individual organisations.”

The UK has a stockpile of protective equipment, including masks, for use in the event of a pandemic virus spreading through the country.

This stockpile has not yet been used, but the World Health Organisation has warned that countries need to be prepared for the coronavirus to become a pandemic.

The NHS has also started home testing for patients to prevent those suspected with being infected from travelling.

A total of 6,536 people in the UK have now been tested for the Covid-19 virus, with nine positive cases as well as four people infected with the virus while aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan.

Earlier this month, the government said it would stockpile some products as a precaution against the impact of the virus in China hitting supplies.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We maintain large stockpiles of a range of medical products, including face masks, to help ensure the uninterrupted supply to the NHS.

“In line with well-established procedures, the NHS is managing a rise in demand for certain types of face mask across the NHS above normal levels. Local stockpiling is unnecessary and could inadvertently cause shortages.

“The best way to protect ourselves from infections like coronavirus is to wash our hands, carry tissues and dispose of them after use.”

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