Sir Nick Carter Head of the Army says coronavirus PPE is biggest logistical challenge ever


The head of the Army has hit back at criticism of the handling of the NHS PPE crisis by describing it as the ‘greatest logistical challenge’ in his 40 years of service.

Sir Nick Carter told tonight’s Downing Street press conference that in just 25 days of working with the NHS on delivering personal protective equipment (PPE), the number of customers it normally delivers to has shot up from 240 to 50,000. 

He said the Army has stepped in to cover 38 new delivery routes for supplies, which are the equivalent distance of driving three times around the world. 

The 3,000 personnel currently working to fight coronavirus have had to create 260,000 sq ft of distribution warehousing, he added. 

He also revealed one Major has been drafted in from his day job at Google to design a bulk-buying system so different parts of the NHS can get their PPE more efficiently. 

It comes after senior Army sources slammed the NHS’s logistical services as ‘knackered’ and demanded to be put in charge of PPE supplies.    

Sir Nick Carter (pictured) told tonight’s Downing Street press conference that in just 25 days of working with the NHS on PPE, the number of customers it normally delivers to has shot up from 240 to 50,000

A member of the 4 Regiment Royal Logistics Corps is pictured checking a PPE delivery in Oxfordshire today

A member of the 4 Regiment Royal Logistics Corps is pictured checking a PPE delivery in Oxfordshire today

But Sir Nick said of the major: ‘He has really stepped up to the plate – his daytime job is as a logistics expert who runs Google’s transport network across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

‘He has been part of the supply team that has been working on how we distribute PPE.

‘He has designed an e-portal in partnership with eBay which will in due course manage individual customers and he designed a bulk supply chain for the distribution of PPE to all of the NHS regions and trusts.’     

EBay claims it built the e-portal ‘within days’ of being enlisted to support the NHS and that the pilot was in the final stage of testing.

It uses the online marketplace’s technology to help primary and social care providers order the PPE they need and will be offered on a pro bono basis.

The portal can only be accessed by people on an NHS database of healthcare workers who can log in and shop at no cost for a limited range of non-acute PPE via the NHS Catalogue, they added.

The PPE is being supplied by NHS Supply Chain via the Clipper Group and dispatched by Royal Mail, with more than 42,000 pieces being delivered in the pilot phase, the firm added. 

EBay’s UK vice president Rob Hattrell said: ‘We were asked by the NHS and other partners to deliver technical expertise and resources to address the pressing issue of PPE supply.

‘EBay software engineers from around the world, including at our sites in Portland in the US, Berlin in Germany and here in the UK, have been working round the clock to get this live and I’m delighted that we are now up and running with the pilot.

‘It’s important that we all do what we can to help the NHS at this critical time, we are excited to be a part of this.’ 

Responding to PPE criticisms, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (pictured) said supplies of different items have been 'very close to the line' at various points

Responding to PPE criticisms, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (pictured) said supplies of different items have been ‘very close to the line’ at various points

Responding to PPE criticisms, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said supplies of different items have been ‘very close to the line’ at various points.

He said: ‘It is very clear that at the moment we are tight at different times for different items of PPE. It’s not everything at all times. 

‘When you’re close to the line, inefficiencies in any part of the system tend to lead to local stockouts. 

‘A this point in time, we are still close to the line. At a national level we are not underwater.’

But he acknowledged there ‘may be local issues’ and said promising the PPE crisis would be over in a few days would be a ‘mistake’.   

Military personnel have accused the NHS of an ‘appalling’ handling of the issue with the Army pushing to be given a more prominent role in making sure the kit gets to where it needs to go.

They questioned why certain key items were not being rationed after an RAF plane carrying a PPE shipment from Turkey finally arrived back in the UK today after major delays.  

Flight tracker RadarBox showed the Airbus A400-M registered ZM416 depart Istanbul and land just after 3.30am at RAF Brize Norton.

The plane had been dispatched from the Oxfordshire base, where two other planes are on stand-by to pick up further kit from Turkey, late on Monday.

It is not yet known if the consignment, which was ordered last Thursday and originally due to arrive on Sunday, includes 400,000 badly-needed surgical gowns.

There is growing fury over PPE shortages amid claims the government has been slow on taking up offers of help from British businesses as millions of items continue to be shipped out of the UK despite domestic need. 

Labour today claimed it had been told by dozens of UK companies that offers of help on PPE had been ignored by ministers. 

An RAF cargo plane arrived back from Turkey at RAF Brize Norton this morning with a cargo of PPE equipment

An RAF cargo plane arrived back from Turkey at RAF Brize Norton this morning with a cargo of PPE equipment

The supply of gowns has emerged as one of the key issues of the current crisis with the government scrambling to source as many as possible from all over the world. 

But today ministers faced claims that they have been slow to talk to domestic manufacturers who have offered to supply items or to convert their production lines to make the equipment. 

Military planners who are experts in logistics were sent out to different parts of the country by the Ministry of Defence in the early stages of the outbreak to help ensure vital supplies were appropriately and swiftly allocated. 

But military sources have suggested that the NHS distribution network has seen PPE being sent to hospitals without fully taking into account need. 

That has meant some hospitals have ended up with more than they need while others have been left with a shortage. 

A senior army source told The Times: ‘We know how knackered their [NHS logistics] systems are, but we’ve been surprised we’ve not been called in to help more, and we’ve been surprised by their failure to ration [kit].’ 

Military commanders are thought to be frustrated that the so-called Covid Support Force which can call on 10,000 personnel and has disaster response planning expertise has not been put in charge of PPE distribution. 

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘The MoD understands just how challenging logistics can be, especially under current pressures. 

‘Of course there may be frictions at a local level, but those same armed forces are doing everything possible to support their health colleagues. The MoD has full confidence in the NHS.’  

Delayed RAF plane finally lands with PPE cargo from Turkey

An RAF plane carrying a delayed consignment of PPE from Turkey finally landed in the UK this morning – but is only carrying up to half the promised 84 tonnes of life-saving equipment.

Flight tracker RadarBox showed the Airbus A400-M registered ZM416 depart Istanbul and land just after 3.30am at RAF Brize Norton.

The jet is one of three that have been waiting for days for the go-ahead to pick urgently needed medical clothing and equipment, including 400,000 gowns made by Turkish suppliers. 

It is not known how much of the consignment has arrived today, but the RAF Atlas is believed to only have capacity for 40 tonnes. After the jet touched down, three pallets were seen being unloaded onto the tarmac.

The government promised that the cargo would arrive in Britain on Sunday and it when it didn’t the RAF plane was sent to pick it up. 

It didn’t land in Istanbul until Monday, at 9.10pm local time. 

Fury over coronavirus PPE shortages is escalating amid claims the government was ignoring offers of help from businesses – and millions of pieces of PPE are still being shipped out of the UK in spite of the lack of equipment for NHS frontline staff.

Reports suggested that the government missed out on 16million facemasks for the NHS after ignoring offers from two major firms. 

Reports overnight suggested the government missed out on 16 million face masks for the NHS after offers from two major firms were ignored. 

The Guardian reported that infectious disease specialists Landcent said they could have delivered six million FFP2 masks for the NHS to use if the government had placed an order three weeks ago.

Volker Schuster, who owns Merseyside-based chemicals company EcoLogix, also claims he wrote to the Cabinet Office’s ‘COVID commercial response unit’ to offer a shipment of 10 milllion FFP2 masks from China.

The firm said it only got a response eight days later – by which time the items had been sold to other countries.

Mr Schuster’s local MP, Labour’s Bill Esterson, confirmed he had contacted Health Secretary Matt Hancock to highlight the offer on March 27 but that he had never received a reply. 

Labour today said it had been contacted by 36 British companies which had ‘not received a reply’ from the government after submitting offers to supply things like face guards, aprons and gowns. 

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said in a letter to her counterpart in government Michael Gove: ‘You and your officials and those at the Department for Health and Social Care will be best placed to validate what capability and capacity these firms have, but as they have not received a reply after contacting the government, I wanted to ensure that the Cabinet Office was aware of them.

‘Of these firms, if just one, five or 10 were able to contribute to the national effort of ensuring that our NHS and care workers – and indeed anybody who needs to use some form of Personal Protective Equipment and clothing – could be better protected, or just one hospital or care home were able to access adequate supplies of the PPE they need, I know you will agree that that would go a long way and make a big difference.’ 

Mr Hancock announced yesterday at the daily Downing Street press conference that 8,331 companies had come forward with offers of PPE – some of which had led to ‘very large-scale’ purchases.

‘I am very grateful to all of those who have come forward and we are now actively engaged with hundreds of these companies,’ he said.

‘I can announce that we are working with 159 potential UK manufacturers which are starting to come on stream.’

Mr Hancock said the government needed to carefully consider all of the offers made to make sure firms can actually deliver on what they have promised. 

The Atlas A400 is spotted approaching the runway early this morning. It is only carrying up to half the promised 84 tonnes of life-saving equipment

The Atlas A400 is spotted approaching the runway early this morning. It is only carrying up to half the promised 84 tonnes of life-saving equipment

The RAF transport plane being loaded with vital PPE equipment in Turkey which is destined for frontline healthcare workers in the UK

The RAF transport plane being loaded with vital PPE equipment in Turkey which is destined for frontline healthcare workers in the UK

‘We have had some offers, for instance, that have come from companies where, upon investigation, the company has only just been formed in the previous day or two before coming and asking for a cash deal with the government,’ he said.   

The RAF plane carrying supplies from Turkey is believed to only have been stocked with up to half of the promised 84 tonnes of life-saving equipment ordered from Istanbul. 

The delay in the arrival of the cargo had been blamed by the UK government on problems in Turkey. 

But Turkish officials hit back and said there had been no hold up on their end, claiming ministers had only requested help with the shipment on Sunday. 

The government is insistent that it is pursuing ‘every possible option’ to secure additional kit but unprecedented worldwide demand means the situation is ‘very challenging’. 

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