By Kit Sandeman, Local Democracy Reporter
The leader of the opposition at Nottinghamshire County Council has said front-line care workers have been ‘let down’ by the failure to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Labour leader Alan Rhodes said he has heard ‘a lot of concern’ from carers and those in senior positions at the council about the lack of reliable supply, and that people were ‘losing sleep at night’.
It comes as the county council revealed on Tuesday, April 28, that it only has supplies to last until Friday.
Councillor Rhodes, who represents Worksop North for Labour, said carers and the council were doing their best in ‘extremely difficult’ situations, but that they were operating ‘with one hand tied behind their back’.
In Nottingham, council leaders say they have ‘enough for the moment’, but that this was ‘despite, not because of’ the Government.
Getting PPE to social carers has proved more difficult than getting it to hospitals, in part because the care sector is more spread out.
As well as care homes, many carers work remotely, visiting people in their homes.
Private care homes are responsible for procuring their own PPE, but it has proved impossible for some to obtain a steady supply
Where care providers have struggled, they are able to access an emergency stockpile run by the local resilience forum – of which the county and city councils are part – however, this stock is running with just days worth of supply.
Councillor Rhodes said: “I’ve been told the council has never had more than three days’ worth of PPE at any one time. I think that’s very concerning.
“It’s like just-in-time manufacturing, and you can do that when you’ve got a good supply chain you can always rely on, but you can’t do it in a situation where people’s lives depend on it.
“A car plant closing for a day is a bad thing, but someone losing their life is a tragedy.
“If the supply line is disrupted for any reason, then clearly that supply of vital PPE is going to stop.
“I think at some stage – because this is a national shortage – there has to be an independent inquiry into what went wrong in this crisis, why we were so ill-prepared why there’s been a denial by the Government that there was ever a problem (with PPE in care homes) until it became blatantly obvious there was a problem.”
“I think the council is doing its best in a bad situation, I know from talking to senior people and those on the front line that people are working their socks off to ensure staff are properly provided for, properly protected, and that they can deliver the care that’s expected.
“I genuinely believe councils are doing their best, but they’re doing it with one hand tied behind their back, and with constant concern about when and if the PPE is going to run out.
“That’s what keeps everyone up at night – how long is the supply chain going to continue before there’s a disruption, and what will the implications of that be for us and for the people we care for?”
City council leader, Councillor David Mellen, said the situation in the city was less extreme, but that Government supply drops had ‘fallen short’.
He said: “The supply of PPE to our care workers is a priority for us and thankfully we are in a position where we can say that we have enough for the moment.
“But this is in spite of rather than because of the Government’s consignments, which are still falling short of what is needed.
“We are expending time, effort and money purchasing significant stock from other sources, which is a drain on over-stretched resources and means that uncertainty remains about whether there will continue to be enough to meet demand.
“The last delivery from the Government along with our own supplies means we have enough stock to meet demand this week. We expect another Government delivery later this week but we can’t rely on it providing enough.”
Melanie Brooks is the corporate director for adult social care at Nottinghamshire County Council.
She said: “We are confident that we have sufficient PPE stock for this week to Friday so demand from our care providers will be met.
“We are expecting further deliveries during the week which will help significantly to maintain the supply/demand issue going forward into the weekend.
“Looking ahead, we are still reliant on Local Resilience Forum supplies getting to us as our weekly PPE needs are still high.”
“The council in recent weeks has needed around 865,000 pieces of personal equipment per week and it has been, and remains, their biggest concern for service continuity.”
Councillor Adele Williams is the portfolio holder for adults at the city council, and represents the Sherwood ward.
She said: “Just like NHS staff, we have hundreds of care workers who are putting themselves in harm’s way in order to continue looking after elderly and vulnerable people in our communities.
“We owe it to them to give them all the protection they need to carry out their jobs.
“Right now, we can guarantee that we can meet the national guidelines, but we need to be able to give them certainty that this will continue to be the case for the duration of this pandemic.
“We have only been able to do that because our teams have sourced PPE locally, to fill the gaps in the national process.
“People may have seen the very real problems associated with government supplies of PPE on the BBC’s Panorama programme this week.
“We also fear that the national guidelines are driven by the availability of PPE. It would be more honest for the Government to call it what it is – rationing.
“It’s just not good enough that the Government is continuing to renege on its promises, fail our dedicated care professionals and put them at risk.
“The prime minister talked about getting the PPE situation on track. That is not a picture we recognise.”