NHS shifts more than 1,000 containers of PPE from Felixstowe in a week
PUBLISHED: 13:46 16 November 2020 | UPDATED: 18:39 16 November 2020
A massive operation to clear containers full of PPE from Felixstowe Port is now under way – with 1,000 containers moved in a week.
The work is set to be stepped up in the coming days to ensure the equipment is moved where it is needed, amid reports of backlogs at the port partly caused by the PPE containers.
The pledge came from health minister and Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill whose officials have been working with port bosses to ease what has become a block to some other cargoes passing through Felixstowe.
Containers are now being moved to other places in the region – including former air bases and vacant land – while extra trains carrying containers full of the equipment were sent out of the region to allow it to be taken on to NHS distribution centres.
Mrs Churchill said: “There has been a great effort by the port and the supply chain to get these moving.
“We have had a great deal arrive in the country during September and October – it was ordered during the first wave of the pandemic in preparation for what we knew would be a difficult winter.
“It is PPE and also testing kits – but now we are producing 70% of the kit we need in this country but we did need to order some from abroad.”
The containers were being taken away from the port to other sites in the region, including former airfields, before being distributed to hospitals and other health service units across the country.
Recently, stacks of containers appeared at Melton, near Woodbridge, and at the former Mendlesham Airfield, just off the A140.
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A spokesman for the port said it was not possible to confirm these were containers of PPE – but they were the kind of locations they were being moved to. Other sites in the area could also be used to try to clear more space at the port itself.
A spokesman for the port said things were moving – but as fast as the containers were being sent out, more were arriving by sea.
“There are some delays to unloading because of the volume coming through, but it is not accurate to say Christmas is under threat,” the spokesman said.
“We are dealing with more ‘normal work’ than we did this time last year so Christmas goods are getting through.”
Suffolk Coastal MP and work and pensions secretary Dr Therese Coffey said she had been talking to port chiefs and her ministerial colleagues about the situation, and was hopeful things would soon be eased.
“I know Jo Churchill has got a team of her officials together to try to move this out – and I think everyone is hoping things happen within the next few days,” Dr Coffey said.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter’s constituency includes Mendlesham.
As a former health minister and practising hospital doctor, he knows about the supply chains in the NHS.
He said: “The logistics side of NHS distribution has always been very efficient – but when you’re faced with a pandemic like this there are always going to be challenges, the NHS doesn’t have enough warehouse space to store the amount of PPE it needs at present.
“So moving it out to sites like former airfields where it can be sorted and then sent to where it is actually needed seems like a fairly sensible solution.”
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