Matt Hancock has defended not taking up all domestic manufacturers on their offers to produce protective equipment during the coronavirus crisis – saying not all opportunities have been “credible”.
The Health Secretary was responding to reports that UK firms offering to make personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline NHS staff had not heard back from the Government.
Labour MP Rachel Reeves said on Twitter that she had been contacted by companies claiming they had responded to Mr Hancock’s calls for manufacturers to help boost stocks, but had not received a reply.
At a Downing Street briefing on Tuesday, Mr Hancock said checks were needed on such offers, claiming that some companies had only been set up the day before applying for Government funding.
“I think it has been very encouraging the number of UK companies that have come forward,” he told reporters.
“But we have had to make sure we sort out the credible offers from those that are not.
“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 added: “Nevertheless, we want to engage with all of those companies who can help us in this national effort and we are accelerating the progress of getting back to all of those companies with a substantive response to their offer.”
The Health Secretary told the briefing 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.”
Ms Reeves’ comments came amid growing frustration over a shortage of PPE for NHS workers during the coronavirus pandemic, as the death toll among frontline staff continues to rise.
The Labour MP tweeted a copy of a letter she sent to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, which asked how many firms had been taken up on offers to help.
She said that since sending the letter “lots of manufacturers” had responded, saying that they had contacted the Government but “heard nothing back”.
Meanwhile, a group of British textile firms has come together to form the British Textile Consortium in order to make vital equipment for health workers.
The founder of Make it British, Kate Hills, said that gowns produced by a number of consortium members were currently being tested before they can be supplied to the NHS.
She told the PA news agency that consortium members will potentially be able to produce millions of gowns a month.
“Gowns and masks are the main things, gowns in particular are critical,” Ms Hills said.
“Through the consortium a number of manufacturers are having their gowns tested with a view to then supply them to the NHS.
“They will be able to provide gowns in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, per month.
“But they are disposable products so it is not everything that is needed but a good proportion of what is needed. The roll out will be in a few weeks.”
Ms Hills said that because there was not a single large company in the UK that could make PPE, it was important to set up a new supply chain to produce the essential products.
She added: “It is quite difficult for a Government that has been procuring ready-made stock from China to understand how the UK textile industry operates.
“It’s a lot of different moving parts of the supply chain, the fabric company, the company that does the sewing. We are basically putting the supply chain back together for them (the Government).”
High-end fashion retailers in the UK, including Burberry, Barbour and David Nieper, have reopened factories and re-enlisted staff who had been furloughed to help boost supplies.