A group of medical, military and procurement experts have partnered together to help the NHS and care homes meet the desperate need for face mask, gown and glove supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.
As hospitals and care workers scramble to source personal protective equipment (PPE) amid frightening global shortages, European supplies are under strain and healthcare professionals and private care companies are forced to deal with the uncertainty of buying PPE on the open market.
As news pours in of the tragic loss of over 4,000 care home residents in just two weeks, many have fallen into the trap of paying hundreds of thousands of pounds up front to unknown suppliers in an urgent bid to contain the spread. Suspicion of profiteering is rife, so many are looking to Chinese manufacturers to provide lower-cost PPE, as conventional supply chains creak.
Not-for-profit organisation, UK Mask Force, has been formed to source and supply PPE equipment, initially concentrating on the efficient and timely supply of masks and gowns, as fears mount for the safety of both patients and carers.
Noting that the PPE supply situation in China has become chaotic, with over 20,000 factories turning their hand to the production of masks, the team say masses of “fake” PPE are flooding the market, exposing healthcare workers to increased risk.
Dr Abraze Khalique, medical advisor at UK Mask Force says: “With the requirement for healthcare workers to change their PPE several times a day to maintain hygiene, these supplies are needed in high quantities to ensure the protection of workers and patients.”
The masks must comply with UK standards but factories are able to self-certify, which poses another problem for the medical sector, says Conor Moore, a China based procurement partner: “Usually there would be a long extensive process to ensure you are CE certified but, as factories not in the category have begun producing masks and with desperation increasing, the threat to quality and medical standards is enormous.
“The difference with UK Mask Force is that we have people on the ground at all stages inspecting the product. From reviewing factory facilities and the manufacturing of the product, right through to the volunteers who deliver the masks to hospitals on the other side of the world. We bring the equipment from the factory floor to the NHS’s front door.
“The Chinese government is changing regulations every couple of days at the moment, so it’s important, whoever your provider is, that you keep a close eye on importing and exporting and are consistently checking sample units at multiple points in the supply chain.”
Antony Sainthill, UK Mask Force’s logistics coordinator says: “We have trusted, Not-for-Profit relationships with sourcing and procurement management partners HKAA Consulting Ltd in China and the established logisitics provider, Ligentia which has even given Mask Force free storage at Heathrow. From there, we will be providing nationwide deliveries through a team of ex-military volunteers directly to hospitals and care homes.”
Dr Khalique added: “One of the biggest faults in PPE is poorly fitting masks. However, we can buy with confidence, knowing that all masks are in line with The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) legislation. Prevention is critical when it comes to reducing the overcrowding of Intensive Care Units and unnecessary deaths.”
Heather Simpson, managing partner at The Park Medical Practice in Derby said: “When you are asking people to volunteer to work on the frontline, the very first thing they ask about is the PPE. Without the correct PPE will will not see patients. I will not compromise at all on this matter.
“Having the correct PPE, that meets the correct specification is vital. It gives the member of staff the confidence and reassurance that they are really valued, and that we are doing everything we can to protect them, their families and the patients. Correct PPE and a full understanding of how it must be used enables the NHS to concentrate on delivering the best care we can at this difficult time for everyone.
“Counting the PPE is as important as counting the drugs we have. Knowing we have enough supplies of the right quality is important to everyone. It is saving lives and making a real difference. Companies such as Mask Force will really help at this time of crisis.”
Director, William Ralston-Saul says: “We’ve pulled together a team of professionals across medical, procurement, logistics and military backgrounds in order to coordinate the fullest and most efficent sourcing and delivery of protective equipment, including FFP2, FFP3, surgical masks and other PPE into the UK.
“To bring this to the nation, we require the support and funding of the public and businesses who can donate to help us deliver to our heroes on the front-line. A small donation of £10 could cover the manufacture and transportation of up to five masks, so we hope the public get behind this incredible cause.”
Dr Khalique added: “With economic decline putting pressure on the UK to get back to some form of normality and while we may be over the peak, without any cure, vaccine or therapeutic prevention strategies, a second wave could hit us harder than before, especially if it comes during winter months and seasonal flu. We have to understand that it will bounce back and, therefore, we must minimise transmission and contain it.”
When lockdown eventually eases, there are concerns that the demand for masks will surge. But UK Mask Force say they aim to bring the equipment to those who need it most and fix the overwhelming problem with their team of highly qualified experts.
“There is proof that masks are a preventative measure for the highly contagious virus and, as such, are crucial to the lives of vulnerable groups. Our priority must be to facilitate first and foremost front-line workers. Second to that we must assist other key workers, like supermarket staff, those in the education sector, police, fire safety and commercial kitchens with masks, as supplies become more accessible.”
To learn more or to donate to UK Mask Force, please visit: https://ukmaskforce.co.uk/donation/