The below is based on Fleur’s final speech in the House of Commons the before the summer recess.
As we break for the summer recess, I have a long list of issues that I would have liked to have raised with the Government. I have written letters to Ministers about many of them, but have not received a reply for several months. I could have picked any of them, but in the final debate of Parliament I chose to raise an area of urgent concern that I hope will be put at the top of the Government’s to-do list—namely, the national scrubs crisis.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the volunteers across the country who have worked very hard to rise to the challenge of the national scrubs crisis. Demand went up hugely. Previously, 20% of healthcare workers had to wear scrubs, but since covid-19 most of them now do so. The Government have simply not risen to meet that demand, so volunteers across the country—from Shetland to Devon, and at the Putney Scrub Hub— have stepped up. They have sewn and cut and worked all hours. I pay particular tribute to Rosie Taylor-Davies, who has led an amazing team of volunteers. They have made 4,000 scrub sets for the Royal Marsden Hospital and 3,000 sets for St George’s Hospital, and have also supplied care homes, dentists and breast-screening clinics. These are not small orders; they meet a large, industrial-scale need.
In response to a recent survey, 61% of UK doctors said that the hospital where they work faces a shortage of scrubs. This situation risks the sharing and spreading of the virus. Dentists have told me that they did not feel that they needed to close down during this crisis. They could have stayed open, as happened in Germany, but they had to close because of the lack of PPE, including scrubs. That simply cannot happen if there is a second wave.
At the same time, there have been multimillion-pound contracts for PPE, which need to be explained. They include a £252 million agreement with Ayanda Capital Ltd, a company owned by the Horlick family through an entity based in Mauritius, which is a tax haven. In addition, £108 million-worth of PPE contracts were entered into with a chocolatier and a supplier of pigeon netting—strange choice. And an £18.5 million contract was awarded in May to Aventis Solutions, which is an employment agency with net assets of £332 million. During this week’s hearing of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, the Matt Hancock failed to provide any answers to the questions asked by Dawn Butler as to why those contracts were awarded and how much PPE they have actually provided.
We do not have a national plan on scrubs, so we are relying on volunteers such as Putney Scrub Hub in Roehampton, which has taken over squash courts and is working all hours to make the scrubs that we need. Garment factories are lying unused and garment workers are unemployed, even though we have this huge need. Months into the crisis, we are still relying on volunteers to meet this need. It cannot go on.
How much longer are the Government planning to rely on volunteers to provide basic health equipment? Why is there no sustainable national scrubs manufacturing plan, with a proper UK supply chain using garment factories to meet the needs of all of our health workers? We have applauded them on Thursdays and we know how much we owe them, yet many of them lack the basic equipment. Medical students have been told to provide their own. Doctors have been told to bring in tracksuits. People have been told that they need a call-out for children’s pyjamas for medical need.
The Government needs to put this issue at the top of it’s to-do list over the summer recess. It needs to bring together the Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department of Health and Social Care to put together and deliver an urgent scrubs plan before we return in September, so that all our NHS and healthcare workers have the equipment they need, and all the volunteers at Putney Scrub Hub and across the country can put away their sewing machines, put down their scissors and get back to their normal lives.