Will staff and driver shortages send the NHS spiralling?

Will staff and driver shortages send the NHS spiralling?

The supply chain crisis is the most recent troublesome news to grace our screens these days. Major retailers are reporting the worst stock shortages since the 1970’s, and with Christmas looming there are talks of turkeys, pigs in blankets and prezzies not being ready for the holidays. This trend has been slowly creeping up for several years, even pre Brexit (if anyone can remember a time where Brexit wasn’t mentioned everyday..).

The NHS supply chain (the part of the NHS that manages the sourcing, delivery and supply of healthcare products, services and food) had to cancel non PPE orders during the first year of the pandemic in order to avoid disrupting the supply chain and maintain access to PPE for health care workers. This meant that many other orders were not delivered on time, and is part of a chain of events that has pushed waiting times up to records levels, with one depressing but wholly unsurprising statistic showing a 50% increase in poorer areas, and up to 35% in more affluent areas.

The NHS supply chain is taking drastic measures to try and protect stock, going so far as to suspend several items with immediate effect – particularly those used on the ITU. Canteen suppliers to UK schools have written to school catering staff advising them to stock up on frozen and tinned food to ensure there is enough food for the kids over the freezing winter months. Gordon Balmer, executive director of the Petrol Retailers Association says around 22% of filling stations in London and in the South East still do not have fuel. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has very helpfully pointed out that the government cannot wave a magic wand to make supply chain difficulties go away, so we can strike that suggestion off the list (what a tool), it’s good to know that even in a crisis, a UK politician will always find a way to include irony and sarcasm into their reassurances to the public.

Things are getting worse, and it is affecting all of us. It is worth noting that the prime minister has also helpfully pointed out that he doesn’t think this has anything to do with Brexit but is a global issue as a result of the pandemic. In fact he has, again very helpfully, instead blamed the haulage industry, hauliers themselves, and even a handful of climate activists.

So let’s talk about driver shortages and its impact on the NHS – what on earth is being done to address this?

NHS Supply Chain recently had a National Customer Board Meeting and made a statement following this meeting, they maintain that; ‘at present current HGV drivers’ issues are not affecting deliveries to NHS customers and full contingency plans are in place should they be required. Global freight issues and the transportation issues this has caused are also being managed. Alternative global freight options are being explored to ensure the best rates can be achieved. There was also assurance about price increases that, whilst they are inevitable, the Category Towers are doing everything they can to mitigate these. Following recent supply disruption to certain product lines resilience work with revised stocking levels, strategic stockholding and clinical review of alternatives are underway to maximise resilience’.

Now, I don’t know about you, but we felt that was reassuring to hear. Not the part about supply disruption causing product lines to go out of stock and inevitable price increases, but the bit about supply chains not being disrupted by HGV driver disruption.

Of course, it is somewhat confusing that DHG, one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of specialist medical devices supplying thousands of chairs, beds and mattresses every year to the UK, recently reported struggling to make demands due to a shortage of drivers. According to the DHG, covid and Brexit is creating a perfect storm in delivery, and that they are using smaller vans instead of HGV to deliver some products, including stockpiling raw materials.

According to the institute for government, a leading think tank working on making government more effective, the most significant cause of disruption to the supply chain is staff shortage. This is backed up by the Food and drink federation who state that across the whole UK food supply chain there are about half a million staff shortages, approx. 13 % of the total work force required – and the haulage sector is particularly badly affected with numbers of drivers required ranging from 90-100 000.

The food industry is itself taking steps to try and meet the demands of the Christmas season. Sainsbury’s are for example hiring an extra 22 000 temporary seasonal workers, and the government has appointed former Tesco’s boss Dave Lewis as supply chain advisor in response to a troubling statistic that 1 in 6 adults in the UK have been unable to essential food items.

The NHS supply chain also have an overview on their website of product information – and a list of important customer notices to highlight what products are currently experiencing temporary supply issues – in addition to products that are discontinued. At the moment this includes swabs, crutches, nebulisers, tracheostomy tubes and as well as other daily living aids and physiotherapy products – the availability of these changes on a regular basis, and it is worth mentioning that despite the disruption the NHS supply chain is doing a good job at finding alternatives and notifying the public of what is available and what is out of stock.

At the moment there are concerns that supply chain disruption, food shortage and a rising fear of significant covid spread over the holidays could lead to increase pressure on the NHS and lead to another lockdown at Christmas to curb the spread of yet another new delta plus variant which researchers suspect could be up to 10% more transmissible than previous variants. We are all tired of the restrictions to our daily lives – but in order to be able to enjoy some normalcy this Christmas it is likely worth being a bit extra vigilant in the period leading up to Christmas.


See also: Supply Issues Performance Health Crutches, Walking Frames, Walking Sticks and Rollators (ICN 1331) Important Customer Notice