The UK has traditionally sourced its PPE from other countries © Neil Hall/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
The UK has traditionally sourced its PPE from other countries © Neil Hall/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

UK must adopt ‘hybrid’ healthcare supply chain strategy

1 June 2020

The UK must build up its manufacturing capacity for healthcare supplies such as ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) to be ready for future crises. 

Kenan Arifoglu, professor at the UCL School of Management, told SM the UK should incentivise firms to manufacture critical goods within the country to prevent shortages of equipment as seen throughout the outbreak of coronavirus.  

Critical goods such as PPE and ventilators have traditionally been sourced from other countries. However, export bans, delays at borders and orders being diverted to other countries in urgent need of equipment led to supply issues and shortages. 

Arifoglu said: “What is really striking is that the UK has Rolls-Royce. It produces aircraft and complicated high-tech equipment, but it doesn't have the domestic manufacturing capability to produce medical gowns. 

“Only one UK manufacturer can produce them. They are the only ones that can make fabric that is fluid-resistant. This pandemic is a wake-up call for the United Kingdom, and we need to change our supply chain strategy.” 

The UK should adopt a “hybrid option” for its supply chains, where a basic manufacturing capability for key goods is in place to prevent similar supply issues arising in the future, he continued. 

“I'm not suggesting bringing all the production inside the country. To stay competitive, some manufacturing must be in China or in other countries where labour and production is cheaper. But for critical products, like PPE, basic food items, ventilators and drugs, we should have a bare minimum manufacturing capacity within the country,” he said. 

Firms that produce essential items should be incentivised to manufacture products in the UK to ensure preparedness, Arifoglu said. 

He continued: “We need to identify risks associated with different sectors and see which sectors are critical and which sectors we need in case of a crisis. The government could incentivise those companies or manufacturers to come and produce inside the UK, so the basic manufacturing capability is there when it’s needed.”

Meanwhile, the UK government has signed deals with more than 100 new suppliers from around the world to help meet the expected PPE demand.

A new team has been established to secure new supply lines from across the world which will continue to strengthen and diversify the supply chain.

The government said it is in contact with over 350 potential UK manufacturers and contracts have been signed to manufacture over 2bn items of PPE in the UK.

Deals included 70m face masks from Honeywell, 12m sq metres of fabric for gowns over the next six months from Don & Low, and 14,000 visors a week for healthcare staff from Jaguar Land Rover.

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