Flanked by the White Cliffs of Dover, the lorries roared into Britain, laden with the latest Mail Force protective equipment for our healthcare workers.
Their arrival marked the end of a 2,000-mile, week-long journey across the continent from Turkey.
In their cargo were 100,000 gowns bought by the Mail Force charity to help solve the PPE crisis.
Each full-body gown can potentially save the life of a doctor, nurse or care home worker treating a coronavirus patient.
And by last night the first batches of the new PPE (personal protective equipment) consignment were already in the hands of grateful hospital staff.
Arrival: Daily Mail chief reporter Sam Greenhill at NHS distribution centre in the Midlands
On British shores: Lorries carry the vital consignment off the ferry at Dover after a week-long journey
Rachael Corser, chief nurse at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, took delivery of nine large boxes of gowns, plus other boxes of masks and aprons.
She said: ‘Thank you for this donation. We are incredibly grateful for anything we can get, and the public’s support has been very humbling. It is so important for the staff to know that we have enough PPE to keep them and the patients safe.’
With PPE in alarmingly short supply, the Mail Force charity was set up by the Daily Mail and its partners to seek out untapped sources of the much-needed kit and buy it for the medical frontline. Generous Daily Mail readers and philanthropists have responded magnificently to our clarion call – sending in an incredible £8.5million to the cause so far.
HERE’S HOW TO DONATE
Mail Force Charity has been launched with one aim to help support NHS staff, volunteers and care workers fight back against Covid-1 in the UK.
Mail Force is a separate charity established and supported by the Daily Mail and General Trust.
The money raised will fund essential equipment required by the NHS and care workers.
This equipment is vital in protecting the heroic staff whilst they perform their fantastic work in helping the UK overcome this pandemic.
If we raise more money than is needed for vital Covid-1 equipment, we will apply all funds to support the work of the NHS in other ways.
Click the button below to make a donation:
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Every penny goes towards purchasing fresh PPE stock and getting it to where it is needed most.
The latest consignment arrived on lorries crossing the English Channel after a seven-day, 1,980-mile road journey across Europe.
Mail Force found a reputable factory in Turkey producing gowns for medical use. Following the recent debacle of a much-delayed Government order of PPE from Turkey that turned out to be substandard, Mail Force submitted its gowns for extra checks to ensure their quality.
After the Health and Safety Executive confirmed their suitability for use on the Covid-19 frontline, and NHS chiefs said they would be gratefully received, the charity wasted no time in shipping them to the UK.
It marks an exciting new chapter for Mail Force. The charity’s first 20 tons of gear was airlifted from China, a plane load from Shanghai of coveralls and masks heralding the start of the campaign when it touched down at Heathrow on April 28.
Then a week ago, your donations paid for 1.5million British-made aprons produced at a former cotton mill in Blackburn.
Now the latest consignment of PPE has been brought from another continent by road, at a fraction of the cost to the charity of hiring a plane.
It was loaded aboard lorries at the Turkish factory near Istanbul and driven on to a ferry which crossed the Aegean, Ionian and Adriatic seas to the Italian port city of Trieste.
From there, the convoy climbed to 3,500ft above sea level and views of snow-capped peaks as they traversed the eastern Alps.
After Austria, the lorries drove into Germany, passing Munich, Nuremberg and Mannheim on their way to Belgium and France.
To keep the costs to the charity low, the drivers slept in their cabs during the regular rest breaks that are required by law.
Rachael Corser, Director of Nursing at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, pictured receiving the latest delivery of PPE provided by Daily Mail reader donations to the charity Mail Force
Staff at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, pictured receiving the latest delivery of PPE provided by Daily Mail reader donations to the charity Mail Force
And with few shops open, one driver even brought a travel barbecue to rustle up meals at roadside rest stops. Once at Calais, they caught a cross-Channel ferry to Dover. Driving past the famous white cliffs, driver Melih Caner gave a thumbs-up to the Mail as he headed towards London. He said: ‘It has been a long journey but very smooth because there are not many cars on the roads at the moment. It is always very nice to come to England.’
Then it was up the M1 to the Midlands where the NHS runs a PPE operations centre in a vast hangar the size of three football pitches.
There, a team of staff unloaded box after box into the state-of-the-art warehouse, where all PPE destined for the NHS is logged, quality-checked, sorted and then distributed to wherever health officials on a daily conference call deem it is most needed.
At the Lister Hospital yesterday Miss Corser, the director of nursing, said: ‘We get through thousands of masks and gowns every day, so any additional stocks we get are crucial and very much appreciated.
‘It will make such a difference to our staff, knowing that the local and national public are so behind their safety.
‘Our staff don’t think they are doing anything special but what a donation like this shows is that the public do know and do appreciate that they are going over and above the call of duty.
‘The nursing staff here have experienced two extremes of emotion, the privilege of caring for people at their most vulnerable coupled with fears for themselves and their loved ones, but they come to work and put that to one side and just put the safety of our patients first.
‘Thank you to Mail Force for this donation. It makes all the difference.’
Checks: Warehouse workers Ellie Jones and Harvey Barker try out a gown at the NHS HQ
Nurse Lorraine Williams added: ‘When you are on the wards, it means so much to know that people out there are thinking of you and doing something to help.’
At every stage of its campaign to source PPE, Mail Force has worked with the Department of Health to ensure it is buying equipment that is urgently needed, meets the required standard and does not compete against the NHS’s own procurement efforts.
Mail Force was launched around the time the Covid-19 death toll among NHS doctors and nurses passed the grim milestone of 100. Its sole purpose is to help ease the PPE crisis. Led by the Mail, a consortium including US enterprise software giant Salesforce and UK asset management company Marshall Wace set up the charity.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed his thanks to Mail Force for helping ‘our national effort to tackle coronavirus’, and a string of Cabinet ministers including Health Secretary Matt Hancock have also praised the campaign, along with the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
But the driving force has been the sackfuls of cheques that arrive daily from Daily Mail readers, many of whom enclose moving letters about why they have donated.
Some of you have even sent money twice after reading about the bravery of doctors, nurses and care workers who are struggling on despite the shortfalls of protective equipment.
The search for reliable PPE has proved perilous, as the Government itself highlighted earlier this month when it bought a dud batch of gowns from Turkey.
Amid great fanfare, as hospitals ran out of equipment, an RAF transport plane was dispatched to Istanbul airport to airlift 84 tons of supplies including 400,000 gowns but, after hours of confusion, it took off again with only 60,000.
And back in Britain, 2,500 of those were tested and failed to meet UK standards, consigning the whole load to the dustbin.
Mail Force has now brought shipments of gowns, aprons, masks and coveralls and these will be followed by more and more orders as the charity puts the stream of donations to good use.