Unite, the UK and Ireland’s leading union, has told the government.
But in a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner says this can only happen when the government plays its role in bringing the full resources of the nation together in a ‘heroic effort to see off the invisible enemy that is Covid-19’.
There are daily accounts of a postcode lottery in the supply and distribution of PPE, even in the NHS and care services, both in the media and directly to Unite from members on the frontline as well as manufacturers.
Turner pointed out that the fractured nature of the government’s response has led to local manufacturers and SME’s rising to the challenge by supporting services, such as hospitals, care homes and hospices, that are close to their facilities. Isolated services however are getting very little, and in some cases nothing, either from the NHS central distribution or manufacturers that have stepped in to help.
This underlines the urgent need for a specific minister for PPE, with cabinet level responsibility to coordinate the actions of government departments, to prevent this lottery deepening.
In his letter to Gove, Turner, who leads Unite’s campaigning work on PPE manufacture and availability in coordination with industry federations, says the efforts of individual government departments are at risk of going to waste without such a minister:
“The current postcode lottery in respect of supply and distribution, even to our NHS and frontline care services must end. This will only happen, however, when government plays its role, as only it can, in bringing the full resources of the nation together in a heroic effort to see off the invisible enemy that is COVID-19.
“We are at war and thousands are dying. What is now needed is a wartime plan to coordinate our response and that requires a minister with authority, clout and nothing else to distract them from their sole purpose which should incorporate PPE and our need for ramping up our testing capabilities, which are woefully inadequate right now.”
Steve Turner added: “Our reps are fed up with our members being let down, a mounting frustration that their union shares. Workers are frightened – and this will turn to anger. They want to know that the government recognises that its first duty is to protect the people of the country. They can signal that now, this minute, by putting someone in charge of PPE provision and testing.
“A workforce scared to go to work now because it feels exposed will not inspire confidence in others to return to work when that time comes.
“This disease is no flash in the pan. We will be living with its impacts for many months to come. Government has to show it understands this, that it has got a grip and that it will tell the country who in the cabinet is now fully responsible for this core public health defence.”
In a separate letter to Jeremy Hunt, the chair of the House of Commons health and social care select committee, Unite has called for an urgent inquiry into the difficulties of procurement, UK manufacture and distribution of both personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits.
Steve Turner said: “I’m pleased to say that it’s been agreed that my request for an urgent inquiry will be circulated to committee members ahead of their meeting tomorrow (Thursday 16 April).”