Chancellor Rishi Sunack sought to defuse the first major cross border row of the current Coronavirus outbreak, amid concerns it could undermine the four-nations approach.UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock also gave his Scottish counterpart Jeane Freeman an assurance that neither NHS England nor Public Health England had asked suppliers to divert PPE (personal protective equipment) orders from Scotland. But in a letter to Mr Hancock last night, Ms Freeman called on him to look into one company which states on its website that it will not supply Scotland or England because of “restrictions” imposed by Public Health England.Nicola Sturgeon had earlier warned that it would “unconscionable and unacceptable” if the equipment to protect staff from COVID-19 is being prioritised for England after concerns were raised by care chiefs north of the border.Mr Sunack insisted last night that it is not directing such an approach.“From our perspective there has been incredibly close co-ordinated action across our public health bodies and NHS bodies to make sure we have a four-nation approach in all of this,” he said.“There’s no truth in those stories that companies have been told to prioritise PPE equipment. I think rather the contrary is actually happening. In fact there has been incredibly close collaboration between our four nations in this regard.”Mr Hancock has initially cancelled a meeting the three devolved health ministers yesterday, but eventually did take part in the talks after the row erupted. His assurances that the English health authorities has not directed equipment south of the border seemed to appease his Scottish counterpart.“We go forward constructively as before & continue to check on these supplies,” Ms Freeman tweeted afterwards.The chief executive of Scottish Care, Donald MacAskill, which represents care homes in Scotland, said earlier that the largest PPE manufacturers were not delivering to Scotland because the NHS and social care providers in England were their priority.And it was reported that Gompels, a manufacturer in Melksham, Wiltshire, has said that it will not supply Scotland or Wales under a contract that it holds with Public Health England.Ms Freeman’s letter to Mr Hancock says that the firm’s website states that Public Health England “restrictions on using this company” means it cannot supply care homes in Scotland and Wales, which appears to coinntradict Mr Hancock’s assurances.“It may be the result of a misunderstanding by the company but I’d be most grateful if you could look into and resolve this matter so that this company which is a supplier to Care Homes in Scotland can continue to do so,” Ms Freeman added.“I am of course happy to discuss further if that would be helpful otherwise look forward to hearing from you and hope we can draw a line under these issues quickly.”Ms Sturgeon had raised concerns during her daily Coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh yesterday and said the Scottish Government was investigating the concerns.“It is a point about fairness and co-operation,” she told journalists.“All parts of the UK are facing supply challenges on PPE. This is a global issue, so any situation where supplies were being diverted from one part of the UK to another without consultation or any sense of co-operation would clearly be unconscionable and unacceptable.“So that’s one where we’re seeking to investigate these issues further and seeking to address them if they are arising as quickly as possible.”Downing Street has denied reports that the UK Government has played a role in supplies of PPE being diverted away from Scotland.A UK Government spokesperson 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.”The claims that English care homes were being prioritised were initially dismissed as “rubbish” by Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch.But Ms Sturgeon said that further inquires by Scottish ministers in the course of the yesterday morning suggested that there was an issue.The First Minister raised concerns that the row could damage the four-nation approach to battling the virus in UK in recent weeks.“I hope people have seen from us over the past few weeks and from other Governments across the UK how much we are trying to co-operate and pull each other through what is a very, very difficult situation, taking our own decisions where that is required but nevertheless having that spirit of co-operation and collaboration“I think that’s the principle that we must continue to abide by.”
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