We need a better local supply chain of personal protection equipment, says Derry business leader

Local chamber highlights the issue to the Northern Ireland Executive

Paul Clancy

Paul Clancy, chief executive of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

Business leaders in Derry have urged the Northern Ireland Executive to look at creating a better local supply of personal protection equipment (PPE).

The Londonderry Chamber of Commerce has written to Finance Minister Conor Murphy, Health Minister Robin Swann and Economy Minister Diane Dodds urging the Executive to adopt a new and sustainable strategy for procuring PPE.

At the beginning of the pandemic in March, over 450 NI companies repurposed their operations to meet serious PPE shortages within the health service, including several local firms.

While Northern Ireland has now passed the first peak of the virus, it has become clear that much higher levels of PPE, on a much more frequent basis, will be necessary for thousands of front-line workers across the health service as well as other sectors in the economy.

Paul Clancy, Chief Executive of the local chamber, said Covid-19 had exposed 'serious problems' in how Northern Ireland sources and procures its PPE stocks.

“When the virus looked like it might possibly overwhelm our health service, there was a scramble to get equipment from halfway across the world.

“While we are rightly proud of local companies like O’Neills, Bloc Blinds, Nuprint and many others who pivoted their businesses to ensure our doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals had the PPE they needed, the Executive now needs to put in place a comprehensive strategy which will ensure we have a strong, secure and consistent stream of PPE.

“As this virus naturally peaks and troughs, and until a vaccine is developed, PPE will become a feature of daily life.

“With the economy and other sectors of our society gradually reopening, PPE will be used by a wider section of frontline workers than just our healthcare staff.

“However, it is not sustainable for Northern Ireland to continue to get its protective equipment from countries like China when we need a more readily available supply chain closer to home.

“Local companies have proven that they have the expertise and skills to fulfil these orders, but they need support from government and assurances that they can win significant public procurement contracts before they commit to the long-term investment and permanently reconfiguring their business operations.”

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