COVID-19: army called in to distribute supplies to NHS front-line staff

Armed forces drafted in amid concerns over delay in supplying protective equipment to staff caring for coronavirus patients

Picture shows an army truck on a motorway in Lancashire. The armed forces are being drafted in amid concerns over delays in supplying protective equipment to staff caring for coronavirus patients.
Picture: Alamy

The armed forces are being drafted in to help distribute supplies to front-line NHS staff battling the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS England said the army was offering personnel to help manage and offload supplies in NHS settings, including distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to NHS staff.

The move follows a letter in the Sunday Times from almost 4,000 NHS workers calling on prime minister Boris Johnson to protect them by resolving the shortage of PPE.

One nurse told Nursing Standard that her nursing home had taken in a patient with COVID-19 symptoms but had inadequate PPE to care for her and safeguard others.

‘She was admitted to our home from hospital with a sky-high temperature and a cough, and the next day she was readmitted to hospital,’ they said.

‘We only have thin, cheap surgical masks, plastic aprons and gloves – it’s the risk to other residents that is most worrying.’

‘We’re on it and trying to solve all the problems’

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged there had been challenges with the supply of PPE. ‘I am determined to ensure that the right kit gets to the right hospital, the right ambulance service, the right doctors’ surgery, right across the country,’ he said in a BBC interview.

‘There have been challenges, and I can see that. We’re on it and trying to solve all the problems.’

NHS England says millions of PPE kits have been delivered over the past few days to hospitals, ambulance trusts and care homes, but there has been increased pressure on supply chains due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the related manufacturing slowdown, particularly in China.

NHS England chief commercial officer Emily Lawson said there is an urgent need for a huge increase in the volume of these supplies to the front line in what were exceptional circumstances.

She said: ‘Working with our partners, we are now seeing much increased capacity and a more responsive supply chain to help take us through the coronavirus outbreak. We are extremely grateful for the army’s support.’

RCN letter to PM states priority COVID-19 testing for nurses is 'absolute must'

The RCN has written to the prime minister calling for priority COVID-19 testing for health and social care workers.

In the letter, dated 23 March, RCN general secretary Dame Professor Donna Kinnair described priority testing for nurses as an absolute must.

‘Our members need this in order to do their job while keeping themselves, and their patients, safe,’ she said.

‘We ask you to personally intervene and act to ensure enough supplies of personal protective equipment and testing for COVID-19 is available for all nursing staff and our colleagues.’

More than 1 million people have signed an online petition calling for priority testing for NHS staff.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock also told the BBC on 23 March that he agreed health workers should be tested and that the government was buying kits.

‘We are expanding the number of tests as fast as possible, and I hope to be able to say more on that in the next few days,’ he said.

Last week Wales confirmed it was expanding COVID-19 testing to front-line staff, including in emergency departments, critical care units and acute medical assessment units.


View our COVID-19 resources

In other news