Health secretary Jeane Freeman has defended the way Scotland organised personal protective equipment (PPE) supply chains for care homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
She said action was taken early on to expand the role of the country’s national procurement organisation and it was asked to take on an additional role to supply top-up PPE to the care home sector.
Freeman wrote to her UK counterpart Matt Hancock on Tuesday urging him to resolve a “contradiction” after reports that one major PPE manufacturer is not delivering to Scotland because it is prioritising NHS and social care providers in England.
She told him she is grateful for his “clear assurance” that health authorities in England had not instructed existing PPE suppliers to Scotland’s care homes to divert orders to the NHS or care homes south of the border.
However, she highlighted that one of the companies involved in supply, Gompels, has “clearly stated” on its website that it cannot supply to care homes in Scotland and Wales due to Public Health England (PHE) restrictions, and asked Hancock to resolve this issue.
Asked in an interview with the BBC if the Scottish Government had adequately organised supply chains for Scottish care homes, Freeman replied: “Yes, of course we have.
“We have in normal course an organisation called National Services Scotland, which is the national procurement organisation for the NHS.
“Very early on we widened its scope and asked it to take on an additional role to supply top-up PPE to the care home sector and to the hubs in local government where that was needed, as well as to primary care.
“That was to recognise the fact that for the care home sector, its normal PPE ordering might not be sufficient for what it needed to do in the current pandemic.
“We introduced direct distribution lines, we have a special email, so we have had this national procurement operation going in normal business and we have scaled it up and stepped it up.”
The health secretary added: “I’m now looking at a contradiction between what a company says and the assurance that the secretary of state has given me, and I have simply asked him to resolve that because it sits at his hand.”
Freeman also said she had asked National Services Scotland to look at if more PPE could be provided to the care home sector without detracting from other parts of the country’s health and social care services.
A UK Government spokesman said: “No wholesaler has been asked to prioritise NHS provision over the care sector.”
He added: “Our PPE strategy is UK-wide, making sure that frontline workers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have the PPE they need to stay protected while taking care of patients.
“Through this four-nation approach, we are working closely with the devolved administrations to co-ordinate the distribution of PPE evenly across the UK.
“To date, Scotland has received 11 million pieces of PPE from central UK stocks.
“We have not instructed any company to prioritise PPE for any one nation.
“Our UK-wide strategy will ensure equipment continues to be evenly distributed across the entire nation.”