Potential suppliers of personal protective equipment to the NHS have written an open letter to the government pleading to know if ministers want their assistance or not during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the document, the signatories say they can “spring into action and help get millions of pieces of PPE” into the health service.
But they express their frustration at the lack of response to their offers of cooperation, as hospitals across the UK struggle to ensure their staff have access to adequate PPE.
Many hospital trusts have reported severe shortages of items such as masks and gowns.
The number of deaths among health and care workers from coronavirus has now surpassed 100.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government has distributed more than a billion items of PPE. Millions of items have been flown to the UK from places like China and Turkey.
Professor Neil Mortensen, president-elect of the Royal College of Surgeons, told Sky News he is surprised the availability of PPE is still not adequate.
He said a third of their surgeons and specialist dentists don’t have enough PPE, especially eye protection and masks, and “do not feel properly protected”.
The letter, addressed to Mr Hancock, reads: “We are a group of businesses and individual suppliers from around the UK who are desperate to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS. Between us, we can produce masses of pieces of PPE.
“Together, we can help save lives. But you’re making this impossible.
“We’ve done what you asked us to do: we’ve contacted the government through the official procurement process you set out. None of us has had a definitive response. We don’t know when we can expect one.
“We can’t keep waiting. So if you don’t want our PPE, you need to tell us now.
“Tell us you want us, so that we can spring into action and help get millions of pieces of PPE into the NHS. Or tell us you don’t, so we can organise ourselves to deliver our PPE directly to the thousands of people across the UK who are pleading with us for it.”
It then lists a number of signatories who have all outlined what kind of PPE they can provide and the quantities.
Craig Morris, chief operating officer at Liquid Retail in Nottinghamshire, told Sky News they offered to supply masks, gowns, ventilators and visors in early March. He said he had some initial responses from the procurement team which then stopped when he enquired about filling in online forms.
He said he had signed the letter “because there has been an abject failure by the government to allow the resolution of the PPE issue”.
“There is no shortage of PPE – it’s simply the fact that their systems and processes have stopped them being able to buy it.”
He said the handling of the PPE has been a failure: “This is a problem entirely of their own making and could have been solved. There needs to be an accounting because the lack of PPE and response is shameful and instead of telling lies they should admit the failure and replace those responsible.”
He said Liquid Retail is now in the process of selling some of its PPE products to other countries.
Beata, from Safepol Workwear who also signed the letter, told Sky News she tried contacting NHS England a month ago and heard nothing until a woman from NHS Improvement phoned her to say “we have everything”.
She said she gave up and now sells products to individual customers.
“It breaks my heart when I see orders from GPs, nurses or carers. I’m not able to donate but at the same time I feel awful that they have to pay for their PPE when it should be provided by the government.”
She added that she had spoken to a care home branch manager who purchased masks for her staff with her own money.
The letter has been put together by Lucy Wathan who began her campaign with a Change.org petition calling for PPE for all frontline NHS staff.
The petition has now received over 800,000 signatures.
Ms Wathan’s partner is a nurse and she has been upset by how frustrating the lack of key equipment has been for him and his colleagues.
She told Sky News: “After speaking to him, I had a look into PPE guidelines and the main thing I was struck by is that there were very clear guidelines published by the WHO in March, yet in the UK the PPE guidance was confusing, inconsistent and lacking in many areas.
She said she gathered the signatures for the letter because “many (firms) have repeatedly tried different methods of contact, online portal, email, Twitter… and had no response or simply a response saying that it was being looked into, so no definitive yes/no we would like your supplies, or not”.
On Thursday Downing Street said 21 million items of personal protective equipment (PPE) were distributed to 196 health trusts and organisations on Tuesday.
Items included gloves, aprons, three types of masks, eye protectors and gowns.
Sky News is awaiting a response from the Department of Health and Social Care.