NHS workers said replacement aprons were poor quality and tore easily © 123RF
NHS workers said replacement aprons were poor quality and tore easily © 123RF

NHS hit by apron shortage after China pollution crackdown

22 January 2018

NHS patients are being put at risk by a shortage of aprons following the closure of a key factory in China.

The NHS is the world’s largest importer of aprons and approximately 1.75m are bought by hospitals every week, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Hospital staff are required to use a new apron for each patient to prevent the spread of infections. 

Supplies of disposable aprons were hit after a major pollution crackdown by the Chinese government, which saw the closure of a factory run by the NHS’s main supplier, HPC

NHS Supply Chain has bought aprons from HPC since November 2016. The firm has now opened three new cleaner gas-powered factories after the closure of its main site.

However, NHS workers told Health Service Journal that the replacement aprons they have been given are poor quality, tear easily and cannot be tied around their bodies.

They added that despite the NHS buying from HPC’s cleaner factories, supplies still remained low.

“This issue has been going on for the last four to five months and the implications have been widespread and serious,” one employee said. 

“Whether it’s someone doing procedures or nursing staff providing patient care, they can’t afford to be pulling torn aprons off or looking for a right-sized one.”

The workers said staff had also been forced to dip into emergency stocks held by the DHSC – usually reserved extreme circumstances such as pandemics – to make up for the shortfall of quality aprons.

Responding to the reports, a spokesman for the Health Care Supply Association, which represents NHS procurement staff, told the Times it was pleased the emergency stocks were being released for hospitals to use.

“Plastic aprons are a basic consumable product and supply challenges show how important it is in a global market to get these things right,” he said.

Nigel Watson from Polyco Healthline, which is responsible for the HPC brand, said the issues of quality had arisen as a result of a change in specification to the previous aprons as well as supply chain issues arising from new factories in China. 

“We have urged NHS Supply Chain to monitor customer issues with the new aprons to ensure the specifications they have requested are fit for purpose,” he said.

NHS Supply Chain is run by DHL Supply Chain, on behalf of the NHS Business Services Authority.

In a joint statement, the NHS organisations said they were monitoring the sale of HPC’s aprons until the quality issues were resolved. 

“We are continuing to work closely with HPC to resolve quality issues. We are checking all aprons in our supply chain to ensure they meet the necessary quality standards and have asked our customers to return any which do not meet these standards,” they said. 

“We are jointly reviewing HPC’s quality control protocols including pre and post-shipment quality checks.”

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