COVID-19 has brought the issues at the heart of social care into sharp focus for the public. Nowhere is this more apparent than a care agency’s PPE supply.


The war for PPE has become a defining battle for social care agencies during this crisis, as well as for the organisations, like Care & Support West and United Kingdom Homecare Association, who represent them. Now more than ever a care agency’s PPE supply determines their ability to protect their staff, and by extension, their service users.


This exposed vulnerability makes an already difficult challenge nearly impossible. Individual care agencies’ PPE supply chain access has been affected by a range of issues. Care managers have seen costs skyrocket while existing supplies are requisitioned by the NHS. All while carers continue on with greater risk and less support.

Care Agencies’ PPE Supply Survey Responses

We conducted a survey amongst our users about their care agency’s PPE supply. We found that over three-quarters of the respondents did not have adequate access to PPE.


Does your care agency currently have adequate access to PPE?


Care agencies have the option of obtaining PPE either from private businesses or local authorities. However, for the vast majority of our respondents, this is far from enough access to meet the needs of their staff or their operations. Here’s what one of the survey respondents told us:


“We have tried a variety of suppliers including our usual supplier Lyreco. Plus we tried Gompels, Just Gloves. Then we have even tried resorting to Brakes, a catering supply firm. We have tried Public Health Wales as we are not being supported by the Local Authorities or Health Boards. They are circumventing social care providers in the community! The real concern – not only felt by us but our colleagues in other agencies as well – is that there is soon coming a time in the near future where we may not be able to safely continue to provide quality care and support. Which could mean we have to temporarily cease providing our support.”


Care agencies cannot continue to serve their community without being able to guarantee their carers’ safety. Without adequate PPE care becomes dangerous to both the carer and the service user. Even when a care agency’s PPE supply chain remains operational, the cost of PPE has increased significantly, sometimes unjustifiably so:

“We made plans in advance and we are now buying from our suppliers when available. We even bought plastic face visors. It is not a cheap process as prices have rocketed. However, we feel it is important to keep our staff safe.”


 Practical Reality

The practical reality is private companies no longer have supplies, and the few that do charge for them at a premium. Meanwhile the government has been, up to this point, largely focussed on the needs of the NHS. One respondent told us the following sad story:


“[We have looked] everywhere, retailers, local council released their list of suppliers but they have none available. We managed to buy some on the internet at greatly inflated prices but cannot find any more. The local council will not supply [PPE] unless a client is [COVID-19] positive and only then a limited supply for that one person. But they are not testing! So how do we know and how do we protect ourselves day to day? It’s too late when the client is showing symptoms! We have bought all our PPE to date. We were told by the local council, in writing, we must source ourselves but we cannot now find any to buy.”


 Government Response

Recently, the government does seem to be slowly recognising the effects of this struggle on frontline social care. Minister for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock has announced a ‘three-stand’ plan to resolve these issues. The tentpole of this plan is a new online ordering platform for PPE supported by a national supply and logistics network. The aim is that agencies that need PPE will be able to get it through this new supply chain. The plan, announced last Friday, is not without its critics. Dr Townson, CEO of UKHCA, raised her doubts about the initiative’s potential with us last week:

“I have no idea how that’s going to work: 18,000 care agencies all trying to register for an account, ordering stuff and then getting it delivered. I just don’t know how that can be done, we’ll see, but that’s what they’re doing.”


However, it is a step, which one can only hope is in the right direction. Each individual care agency’s PPE supply chain issues are being felt on a national level. It can no longer be ignored outside the sector as well as within. The issue of access to adequate equipment, and the funding to afford it, is not a new one in social care. This crisis has not created these issues in our sector, but it has made them unignorable. The one constant has been the resolve of those in the social care sector, who have responded as they always do: with grace, dignity and passion.


We now wait for those outside the sector to respond in kind.