According to a public consultation launched at the start of October, if the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) were to end the PPE programme on March 31 next year, it estimates it would cost £1.4billion. However, continuing it for another year beyond that would only cost £600 million.
In a consultation document, the DHSC said the costs of ending free PPE “are higher as we already hold stock centrally which would need to be newly purchased if free PPE were to end.
“While the department is exploring funding options, we cannot guarantee that the Government will be able to support health and care providers with this additional cost.”
It added that it did currently hold sufficient stocks of PPE for health and care providers to meet their needs through 2022 and 2023, if they are to remain protected from COVID-19.
The DHSC launched the free PPE programme last year, so that health and care providers including NHS hospitals, GPs and pharmacies could access the greater amount of protective equipment they needed during the coronavirus pandemic.
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However, it said it was not yet known whether this greater volume would be necessary, if the pandemic were to wane.
The Express understands that the lower cost for continuing the programme for another year is because storing the PPE, which has already been paid for, would be lower as it would be used quicker.
It would cost more if the DHSC stopped providing PPE for free as it is less likely to be used as quickly.
In the consultation document, it added that continuing to support free PPE for health care providers “could have a negative impact on the businesses who operate in this market.”
The Government intervened in the supply chain as PPE supplies became limited and unaffordable.
Raj Matharu, Chair of Pharmacy London – which represents community pharmacy across the capital – told the Express a decision to end free PPE for healthcare workers would be “short-sighted”.
“There is still COVID out there,” he said. “On Saturday, I was doing a PCR test [for a patient to travel] – that PCR test came back positive.
“So you are still getting COVID-positive people walking into community pharmacies and therefore you do need to protect healthcare staff.”
Mr Matharu added: “This is just another indication that they’re completely out of touch with reality, and all through the pandemic we’ve found that. They’re at least ten paces behind what the people at the coalface are telling them. This is the story of the pandemic in a nutshell.”
If the government were to scrap free PPE, healthcare providers may have to choose whether to reduce PPE requirements or face increased costs.
He pointed to the current shortage of NHS workers and said if others were not there as they were off sick “the NHS grinds to a halt.”
Mr Matharu said he had a “duty of care” to keep his employees well. “We need to ensure our staff are safe – it’s as simple as that.”
The DHSC was approached for comment.