'We have other lines,' says Tony Holohan as doctors urge Govt to come clean over PPE supplies

Doctors have urged the Government to come clean over how long it will take to address problems with some Chinese coronavirus protective equipment as the HSE admitted some stock had been sent back.

Images posted online show gowns with three-quarter length sleeves, leaving arms exposed, and some staff have described gear as not fit for purpose.

A €200m order has seen plane-loads of kit arriving in Ireland over recent days, and ministers have vowed good use will be found for it.

It is intended to protect doctors and nurses who are braced for a surge in the number of Covid-19 patients in the country's hospitals over coming weeks.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the personal protective equipment (PPE) stock arriving in the country was being closely checked for quality and some had been sent back.

He said: “We have secured other lines of stock that will be coming through in the coming days.

“We have stepped up production of surgical masks in our country.”

He said a company in Limerick had tripled its production.

This is not peace time. There is a worldwide shortage. In some cases countries have run out.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), warned: “It is unacceptable to expect frontline health care staff to work without proper protection.”

Health chiefs have acknowledged supplies in some cases are different from what medics here are used to.

They are attempting to source additional equipment.

The IMO said: “We welcome the acceptance by the Health Service Executive (HSE) that there are problems with the recent supply from China and the fact that they are pursuing changes to future orders and alternate suppliers.

“However, we must again stress that doctors and other healthcare workers need assurances on the issues around personal protection equipment – the supply lines and the timelines in which the issues will be addressed in an open and transparent way.”

It said it was monitoring the ongoing situation closely.

“High quality and reliable personal protective equipment is an absolute necessity for frontline medical professionals and those working in each setting have to have access for the appropriate personal protective equipment for their roles so as to protect themselves, patients, and continue working in what are already highly stressful environments.”

He said the rate of spread of the virus had fallen from 33% to 10% but that needed to fall further.

The latest figures from the HSE showed another 424 cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed in the country, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 4,273.

Of the 22 further deaths recorded, half were male and half female.

The virus has hit the east of the country hardest.

The median age of those admitted to hospital intensive care units was 63.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said available equipment was different from that which the country’s healthcare professionals are used to.

“It is being tested and assessed by the HSE.

“Good use will be found for it. We will continue to look for additional equipment.

“It has become such a competitive environment for this equipment and we are looking at this all the time.”

Paul Reid, HSE chief executive, said supplies had been arriving on Aer Lingus flights since Sunday.

He added: “We are engaged worldwide to secure alternative stocks should these supplies not materialise to the extent that we expect.

“It is a very competitive worldwide market but our procurement teams have done really well to secure what we have to date.”

A HSE spokeswoman said its infection prevention and control clinical experts had been undertaking product testing on all shipments received in order to assess quality and suitability for use of the equipment.

“This includes material from China which arrived in recent days,” she said.

“Any issues identified in the first batch are being fed back to be addressed in subsequent orders. We are very grateful to our Chinese partners for facilitating us and we look forward to receiving further quantities of materials from this source over the coming weeks.”

She added: “Procuring goods that meets the necessary standards of HSE, and as specified by WHO, is of paramount importance to HSE. There are multiple suppliers of PPE to HSE.”

Meanwhile, official data has shown that almost 90% of those dying with coronavirus in Ireland are aged 65 and above.

Two deaths have been recorded among patients aged between 25 and 34.

    The latest restrictions in operation since Friday, March 27 mandate that everyone should stay at home, only leaving to:
  • Shop for essential food and household goods;
  • Attend medical appointments, collect medicine or other health products;
  • Care for children, older people or other vulnerable people - this excludes social family visits;
  • Exercise outdoors - within 2kms of your home and only with members of your own household, keeping 2 metres distance between you and other people
  • Travel to work if you provide an essential service - be sure to practice social distancing

A total of 160 clusters of infection have been identified, and Dublin has recorded more than half the total of cases.

Nursing homes are undergoing a particular problem and Mr Donohoe said that is being considered by the Government.

Consultants who normally do private work have been enlisted for public hospital work.

They are working alongside their colleagues but are seeking clarity on elements of their temporary three-month contracts during the emergency.

Elsewhere, the Central Bank has warned the crisis is likely to make a 22 billion euro hole in the country’s finances and the number of unemployed is soaring.

Mr Donohoe said: “Change that in the darkest of years would have taken a year to happen has happened over the space of a number of days.”

    Useful information
  • The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
  • Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department;
  • GPs Out of Hours services are not in a position to order testing for patients with normal cold and flu-like symptoms. HSELive is an information line and similarly not in a position to order testing for members of the public. The public is asked to reserve 112/999 for medical emergencies at all times.
  • ALONE has launched a national support line and additional supports for older people who have concerns or are facing difficulties relating to the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Ireland. The support line will be open seven days a week, 8am-8pm, by calling 0818 222 024