Mass Factory Closures Pose Risk to PPE Supply

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By Sean Keller, Managing Director, ASAP Innovations

At the end of 2020, it was revealed that the world’s number one manufacturer of medical gloves had experienced a control movement restriction order in Malaysia which resulted in over half (55%) of its factories being shut. Furthermore, the world’s third biggest supplier of medical gloves was forced to shut a quarter (25%) of its factories due to COVID-19 outbreaks among its staff. 

As a result of these closures, the Klang Valley area in Malaysia, which is responsible for almost a third of the world’s supply of medical gloves is thought to be working at a 50% capacity. This poses a very serious risk to medical glove supply over the coming months as these manufacturers try to close the gap between supply and demand that’s been created. 

While there has been little disruption to supply since the closures so far, the effects are due to be seen in the next couple of months, posing a great risk to hospitals, staff and patients. 

The UK is very much still in the grip of the second wave of the pandemic and hospitals are at a critical point. With the mass rollout of the vaccine now underway, meaning more staff require essential protection, any kind of hiccup to PPE supply could be disastrous for the country, even halting the vaccine rollout altogether in an extreme case.  

Healthcare leaders must therefore act now to ensure that this shortage doesn’t filter through to their hospitals and healthcare institutions. 

Protecting against supply shortages 

It’s imperative that purchasers understand where their supply is coming from and how it could be potentially impacted. Ensuring the manufacturers you work with have adequate measures in place to protect their factory workers from the spread of COVID-19 is essential, along with knowing the output forecasts of those manufacturers.  

Some manufacturers will now have enough product to guarantee support for their customers for the months ahead, having increased capacity in anticipation on some of these challenges. Ultimately, communicating with your suppliers to understand what they’re doing to mitigate risk to your supply is essential.  

Short supply exposes a risk of fraudulent products 

The shortages of PPE at the beginning of the pandemic led to fraudsters producing fake, unregulated or inferior quality products, therefore posing a risk to the healthcare workers putting their lives on the line through inadequate protection. 

The UK government recently outlined that during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the average monthly number of PPE masks distributed to health and social care services increased from 1-2 million to 85-95 million – an increase of 4,700% 1. However, with reports from the National Audit Office stating that hundreds of millions has been spent on unsuitable items that could not be used 2, it’s imperative that those purchasing PPE understand how to ensure they are buying legitimate and certified PPE. 

Purchases should therefore look out for products that have been certified by notified bodies, include CE markings, comply with EN standards, and include technical documentation to prove the product meets the essential requirements to justify and support an EU declaration of conformity – a mandatory document that should also be present, declaring the products comply with EU requirements. These are the five key areas that purchasers can look out for. If products do not have any of these elements, there’s a good chance that the products are fraudulent and won’t therefore protect workers. 

Purchasers of masks and gloves should take time to look at the packaging of the equipment they’re buying and be sure to ask providers to show the technical file and EU declaration of conformity. On many fakes, there will be no CE marking whatsoever and also the ‘issuing body’ will not be listed on the EU Commission’s NANDO website, meaning the product is not registered or certified, rendering it unprotective.

Ensuring critical PPE supply is maintained 

Hospitals and healthcare institutions have had multiple issues with PPE supplies since the start of the pandemic last year, as the industry battled worldwide material shortages, increased demand and fraudulent products. With factory closures now threatening supply in the coming months and Brexit challenges on the horizon after the initial grace period of certifications comes to an end, it’s essential that buyers get on top of this now to ensure they’re able to continue protecting their staff and patients.

Working with a supplier who is aware of these issues and has contingency plans in place to deter any potential shortages, along with the ability to spot fake PPE products are key to ensuring a consistent supply of credible and certified products. 

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