PPE firm defends decision to ‘divert essential kit’ from Scotland to England during coronavirus epidemic

First minister Nicola Sturgeon washes her hands as she arrives for a visit to the NHS Louisa Jordan

First minister Nicola Sturgeon washes her hands as she arrives for a visit to the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital, a new temporary hospital at the SEC event centre in Glasgow created to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Tom Farmer/The Scottish Sun/PA. - Credit: PA

The boss of a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) distributor has said it was right to divert stocks from Scotland to English care homes amidst the Coronavirus epidemic.

Sam Gompels, managing director of Gompels HealthCare - a Wiltshire-based PPE distributor - said it was not Public Health England's (PHE) fault that Scottish health authorities were too slow to establish distribution channels and that the health body had a right to demand the equipment remain within its borders.

He said: 'We love Scottish care homes dearly and we always have done. We will do our best to supply them, but, there must be a Scottish scheme and the questions should really be asked of the Scottish authorities or public health Scotland, whatever the equivalent is.

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'The fact is Public Health England got their finger out and organised these distribution channels and are getting pilloried for it because public health Scotland, or whatever the equivalent is, have not necessarily organised the same and that's probably the nub of it.'

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Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the claims, calling any disruption of supply to Scotland in favour of English care homes as 'unconscionable and unacceptable.'

Scotland's health secretary Jeane Freeman spoke with her Westminster counterpart Matt Hancock via conference call where the issue was ironed out.

She tweeted: 'Pleased @MattHancock changed his plans to join a constructive discussion of 4 Health Ministers & grateful 4 assurance that neither NHS England nor PHE asked suppliers to divert PPE orders from Scotland. We go forward constructively as before & continue to check on these supplies.'

Hancock had planned to cancel his weekly meeting with the nations' health ministers but reneged after the issue dominated the media cycle north of the border.

PHE referred the matter to the Department of Health which issued a statement stressing that it was implementing a 'UK-wide' strategy for distributing PPE and denied companies had been instructed to prioritise any country.

A UK Department of Health spokesman said: 'Our PPE strategy is UK-wide, making sure that frontline workers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have the PPE they need to stay protected while taking care of patients.

'Through this four-nation approach, we are working closely with the devolved administrations to co-ordinate the distribution of PPE evenly across the UK. To date, Scotland has received 11 million pieces of PPE from central UK stocks.

'We have not instructed any company to prioritise PPE for any one nation. Our UK-wide strategy will ensure equipment continues to be evenly distributed across the entire nation.'

This comes as the CEO of Scottish Care - one of Scotland's largest independent social care providers - Donald Macaskill complained of a 'massive dry-up' of PPE arriving in Scotland because companies were prioritising English facilities.

Public Health England sent Gompels Healthcare a shipment of stockpiled PPE which it specified were solely for English care homes. Gompels apologised to its customer base on its website saying restrictions on non-English companies were part of a criteria set out by PHE. A lot of the equipment were said to be out-of-date but recently retested and verified as safe.

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