The country’s leading manufacturing union Unite, doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, Unison and the Royal College of Nursing have today (Friday 3 April) joined together in calling on the government to unleash a national effort to produce the protective equipment (PPE) millions of key workers desperately need to keep safe during the health crisis.
In an unprecedented joint address to government and the nation, the unions, joined by industry federations ADS Group and the British Printing Industries Federation, say that manufacturing capacity currently furloughed or underutilised should be repurposed amongst the UK’s world leading manufacturers to produce the PPE kit desperately needed by our NHS, social care providers and other front-line workers across UK industry.
Skilled workers are desperate to play their part, using their engineering and manufacturing expertise to ramp up production, under license from existing manufacturers that simply can’t cope with demand or secure essential supplies given the unprecedented demands on raw materials and components.
With millions of PPE kits urgently needed to supply UK industry, Unite believes that demand at home, with excess dispatched across the globe, could be met from an army of manufacturers once the government gives the signal for UK Plc to swing into action, supplemented by a domestic army of small businesses and home workers with access to the appropriate tooling and technologies, such as 3-D printers.
Speaking for Unite, Steve Turner, assistant general secretary for manufacturing, said: “We have plants and people standing idle and underutilised when they could be put to great use in defence of the public’s health.
“Government must now move from soundbite to action and put out a ‘call-to-arms’ to existing providers, materials suppliers and manufacturers. Temporarily addressing manufacturing restrictions based on copyright, patent or intellectual property, we could have a manufacturing army up and running, producing a range of PPE and essential supplies, in a matter of days.
“We showed how UK manufacturing can pull together in the national interest to produce urgently needed medical ventilators and we already have our members at the Royal Mint producing medical visors.
“Further, Friday’s call across Northern Ireland saw over 100 companies responding positively to produce everything from hand sanitiser to medical scrubs, while a call from the Australian government last week saw 130 manufacturing companies step up to produce everything from hand sanitiser, visors and face masks, to goggles, gloves, surgical gowns, mask fit test kits and thermometers.
“There is no reason why we cannot ramp up production across the UK – with government planning and coordination between those coming forward to provide lifesaving PPE for all; from our NHS to local government, food manufacturing to parcels delivery. Unite’s members stand ready to deliver – government must now make the call.”
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said “NHS and care staff are doing vital jobs looking after us all, but the work they do mustn’t put them at risk. Shortages of protective equipment are making staff anxious, but they’re in the forefront of the fight against this deadly disease.
“There must be a nationwide effort with government and manufacturers all doing their bit so public service workers can get the equipment they need. As they are protecting and looking after us, so we must protect and look after them. This sensible proposal could go a long way towards solving the current problems.”
Dr David Wrigley, GP and BMA deputy chair said: “Doctors, healthcare workers and carers are risking their lives day-to-day in the battle against COVID-19. They must be protected with proper PPE so they can stay healthy to care for patients safely and stop the spread of this deadly virus.
“The government must urgently spearhead a national drive the likes of which has not been seen in peacetime and support UK manufacturers right now to make the vital PPE equipment health and care workers need. With the UK’s health workers enduring severe shortages and suffering a postcode lottery in the supply of vital protective equipment, the government has a moral duty to do everything in its power now, to protect doctors and protect patients.
“We are in the grip of the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes and will be dealing with it for a long time to come. Let us now unleash the brilliance of the UK’s manufacturing workers to alleviate the critical shortage of PPE and protect doctors so that they can help you.”
ADS Chief Executive Paul Everitt said: “Our members are among manufacturers helping to supply the NHS with vital protective equipment like face masks, respiratory equipment and clothing. Companies in our sectors are also responding to a call from the government for proposals to develop technology for rapid sanitisation of ambulances. Manufacturers have the capabilities needed to help the government and the NHS address the challenges they are facing and we are working with them to help make sure they can access the equipment they require.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary said: “Weeks into this crisis, it is completely unacceptable that nursing staff, wherever they work, have not been provided with personal protective equipment. I am hearing from nurses who are treating patients in Covid-19 wards without any protection at all. This cannot continue. They are putting themselves, their families, and their patients at risk.
“We will not accept anything less than aprons, gloves and masks for all staff, in all settings. But this is a minimum – and that is why we are so disappointed even that level of protection has yet to be provided. Every minute we wait is a minute too long.”