PPE logistics key to war on Covid – leader comment

A new contract for a million surgical gowns suggests Scotland is starting to get its act together on personal protective equipment.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks to members of the armed forces after observing a two-minute silence outside St Andrew's House in Edinburgh to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. (Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA Wire)

During her regular coronavirus briefing yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon paid tribute to those who served in the Second World War, saying they had shown “the value of personal sacrifice for the common good” and “the resilience of the human spirit and our ability to overcome adversity”. She suggested that while thanking veterans, we should also be inspired by them. “Our challenge may be different, but as they did then, we will overcome it,” the First Minister said.

The Scotsman fully supports these sentiments, but there are other important lessons from war that can be learned in our struggle against Covid-19.

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Courage is important in battle, but victory also relies on other more mundane factors, such as logistics and supply. During the ‘Shell Scandal’ of the First World War, leading figures claimed a shortage of munitions was resulting in defeats for the British Army and the subsequent furore saw a Ministry of Munitions created, new laws passed and a rapid rise in production.

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We live in very different times now, but the dire shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS and care staff has almost certainly resulted in coronavirus spreading more widely than it might have done, increasing the number of people who have fallen ill and died.

So the news that more than a million surgical gowns are to be made for NHS Scotland by a group of companies is most welcome. Trade Minister Ivan McKee said the new supply chain would “protect us from any global supply issues and ensure frontline staff continue to have the protection they need”.

Last month, more than 100 medics wrote a letter to the Scottish Government expressing “grave concerns” about the lack of PPE. So the question is whether this new contract for gowns could have been arranged sooner and if there any other shortages still to be addressed.

A ‘pop-up factory’ set up by a group of volunteers in Edinburgh to produce face-shields is a wonderful example of community spirit. But the fact that there is a demand for PPE made by people acting out of a commendable sense of duty hardly inspires confidence that Scotland has got its logistics right.

The gowns contract is a step in the right direction, but in the future we may look back on the ‘PPE Scandal’ with much regret.

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