Home: News

BMA chief: UK stockpiled just 3% of daily PPE needed for Covid

Philip Banfield echoes National Audit Office warning about lack of gowns – and criticises standard of NHS-issue masks

finlay johnston
17 July 2023, 2.08pm

The UK’s advance stockpile of PPE was just 3% of requirements, the Covid-19 inquiry was told


Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

The UK stockpiled just 3% of the required level of certain items of PPE in advance of the pandemic, the chair of a leading doctors’ union told the Covid inquiry today.

Professor Philip Banfield, who chairs the council of the British Medical Association (BMA), said: “The reality was that there was a conscious decision to reduce stockpiles since 2009… so the stockpiles were, [to] my understanding, about 3% of what they were, or should have been planned for.”

Banfield’s evidence reflects a National Audit Office report from November 2020. In April 2020, the report said, the UK had a central stockpile of just 3% of the estimated daily number of gowns it needed to protect health and social care workers.

Banfield, who oversees the running of the trade union for doctors and medical students, also said NHS staff were currently being issued with masks designed for male faces, which provide little resistance against viruses, indicating that lessons have not been learnt since Covid-19 first struck.

Help us uncover the truth about Covid-19

The Covid-19 public inquiry is a historic chance to find out what really happened.

“We are still in a situation where the recommendation is for fluid-resistant surgical masks [to be used], which of course are not protective against aerosols at all,” he told the inquiry.

Banfield referred to a 2008 study conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that, he said, “showed that viruses were behind each of the masks tested. So these were not protective of the respiratory tract.”

He said the policy of providing these masks had the potential to harm vulnerable staff members. “The assessment of hazards is still being poorly done and it affects certain members of both our patients and our staff disproportionately,” he said.

Banfield also accused the government of “effectively dismantling” the public health system with its Health and Social Care Act in 2012, which put public health into the hands of local councils instead of the NHS – something the BMA warned against at the time.

But Banfield indicated that these warnings were not heeded by the government. “We went into the pandemic without the Department of Health [and Social Care] having an up-to-date list of the regional directors of public health,” he said, echoing evidence given by Jim McManus from the Association of Directors of Public Health earlier in the inquiry.

The BMA chief concluded that there was a “disconnect between the front line and the people who were responsible for planning”.

“We were suddenly in a position where not only were our patients going to die but our colleagues, and ourselves, were in a position where we might die because we felt so unprepared,” he said.

The inquiry also heard from Kate Bell, assistant general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

She said social care workers who were on zero-hours contracts were “not receiving contractual sick pay” during the pandemic because they were not earning enough money each week to qualify.

In order to qualify for statutory sick pay, a worker must earn an average of at least £123 a week.

Bell also criticised the government for failing to ask trade unions for advice regarding emergency planning.

“There was no consultation or attempt to engage with trade unions or the TUC regarding civil contingency planning,” she said.

Asked how members could have helped, she said: “We could have brought the voice of our workforce [and]... their expertise.”

The inquiry continues.

We’ve got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData