UK Shipping Millions of Pieces of PPE to EU Nations Despite Widespread Shortages

In a May 6, 2009 file photo a store attendantholds an N-95 mask over a box of disposable surgical masks in Manila, Philippines. Health workers caring for patients who have or may have swine flu should wear a special type of mask called an N95 respirator, not looser-fitting surgical masks, …
AP Photo/ Pat Roque/file

British companies are shipping millions of pieces of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to nations in the European Union, despite reports of widespread shortages in the UK.

The companies claim that the British government has ignored their offers to help supply the government with medical equipment, forcing them to sell their goods to hospitals in Germany, Spain, and Italy.

The chief executive of the British Healthcare Trades Association, Dr Simon Festing, said that “a number of our members” have no alternative but to sell their PPE abroad as a result of the government’s inaction.

“It’s an extremely difficult time for businesses and if they can’t supply to the UK then their commercial arrangements are likely to continue,” Dr Festing told The Telegraph.

The government has claimed that the lack of PPE in the UK is a result of global shortages caused by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. Yet wholesalers throughout the nation claim that they have sufficient stocks in their warehouses which are currently being shipped to the EU.

Veenak International, a Birmingham-based pharmaceutical wholesaler that purchases medical equipment from China, shipped some 750,000 medical masks to Italy on Monday.

The same company sent out some five million surgical masks, over one million FFP2 respirators and more than 500,000 FFP3 respirators to EU countries over the past week. Sources within the company claim that it still has millions of pounds worth of unused protective equipment in storage.

In contrast to the United Kingdom, the European Union has banned the export of certain PPE to ensure that ample supplies of the equipment remain within the bloc.

The United States President Donald Trump also introduced export controls after it was discovered that the manufacturer 3M had been shipping masks overseas.

Conservative MP and chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Greg Clark, said that it was “clearly wrong” for companies to be shipping PPE to foreign countries, but ultimately cautioned against imposing export controls.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that firms are selling PPE to other countries after failing to make headway with the authorities,” he said.

“I’d caution against banning exports of PPE altogether, though. If you do that, other countries might reciprocate and we’d be in an even worse situation,” Clark warned.

On Monday, Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said that “lots of manufacturers” have contacted her claiming that they had offered to help the government but that they had heard “nothing back”.

In her post, Ms Reeves shared a copy of a letter that she had sent to Cabinet minister Michael Gove. In the letter, the Leeds West MP said that there is a “huge desire within British textile manufacturing to help” but added that “there is a clear sense within the industry that the means to help is there but the government has been slow to respond”.

Follow Kurt on Twitter at @KurtZindulka

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