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How retailers and technology companies have contributed to the government’s PPE drive

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Retailers and technology companies from the UK and beyond have contributed to the government PPE drive. 

Ecommerce marketplace eBay has helped build a new government online portal designed to connect medics with PPE equipment, while the Kingfisher Group, Burberry, and Apple are amongst those that are producing or have donated equipment. 

The marketplace portal, which has been developed by eBay working with the NHS Supply Chain, the Department for Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Defence and the Army, is designed to help ease supply issues that have left medical and social care staff short of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that they need. So far, in the pilot phase of the project, more than 42,000 pieces of PPE have been delivered. As well as buying PPE direct from manufacturers through orders of about £200m during the first three weeks of sourcing, the government has also been donated equipment including 240,000 pairs of goggles and safety glasses from the Kingfisher Group, which owns B&Q and Screwfix, 215,000 Type II masks from Apple, 75,000 IIR masks from BP and more than 700,000 from Airbus. 

The government is also working with industry partners including the Royal Mint, Burberry, Rolls-Royce and McLaren to produce gowns and visors and with Ineos, Diageo and Unilever to produce hand sanitiser, while Tate and Lyle have worked with the government’s defence laboratories to support production of the Fit Test solution. 

eBay teams in Europe and the US have developed the online portal based on its own marketplace technology. The portal can only be accessed by healthcare workers registered on a specific NHS database who can then log in and choose from a limited range of non-acute PPE. Items are the sent out via Clipper Group operations using the Royal Mail. 

Rob Hattrell, eBay UK VP, said: “We were asked by the NHS and other partners to deliver technical expertise and resources to address the pressing issue of PPE supply. eBay software engineers from around the world, including at our sites in Portland in the US, Berlin in Germany and here in the UK, have been working round the clock to get this live and I’m delighted that we are now up and running with the pilot. It’s important that we all do what we can to help the NHS at this critical time, we are excited to be a part of this.”

eBay is providing its technology to the project pro bono.  The portal is currently in the final stage of testing and will be scaled in phases so that technical updates can be applied in real time. 

The news of the new online portal comes days after marketplaces provider Mirakl said it had been operating a solution for the French government that had already supplied more than 6.7m face masks and 550,000 litres of hand sanitising gel to frontline staff and critical workers in the first two weeks of operation.

Commenting, Brendan Walsh, UK general manager, Mirakl, said today: “The launch of the government’s Covid-19 platform is too little too late. Downing Street started the tender process for the platform in early March, after recognising that it needed an online marketplace to provide the vital link between PPE manufacturers, logistics firms and the NHS. Yet it has taken until late April for the marketplace to even reach test phase. 

“This has taken too long. Too much valuable time has been wasted on government bureaucracy. In stark contrast, the French government appointed Mirakl to build a platform for Covid-19 supplies, which was launched in 48 hours. Since the launch of the marketplace a month ago, over 16 million items of PPE are already in the hands of the men and women who need them. Because the French government removed the red tape to help protect the people on the front lines, 4,000 healthcare facilities and private and public enterprises can have access to hand sanitising gel, masks, gowns, goggles, and everything else they need to fight the virus safely. And the growth is exponential – multiplying by 15 times every day, with over 300 daily orders.

“Downing Street must become agile and act quickly. The 42,000 pieces of PPE provided during the government’s pilot barely scratches the surface. They can do more. They need to do more.” 

Meanwhile, ecommerce market intelligence business Pipe Candy is aggregating information on the brands that have PPE and other essential equipment available on its Cocoon hub. The list is compiled through the use of algorithms, and brands can also opt to list themselves and any relevant offers that they can make. The company is also aggregating logistics, technology and manufacturing capabilities. 

PipeCandy co-founder Ashwin Ramasamy said this was a way for consumers to discover brands they can rely on for quality products for the lockdown and for partners to step up and support the brands that keep the lights on and making it easy for consumers to go through the crisis. Cocoon is currently showcasing brands from the US and the UK and will shortly open for brands in Asia, while more than 15 logistics partners have signed up to offer services. 

• Lancashire-based furniture manufacturer Sofas by Saxon has started to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS workers and is now encouraging other businesses to step up and do the same. The company has been unable to make or deliver any furniture for the last few weeks and so took the decision to close their workshop and furlough production staff. 

When Sofas by Saxon managing director Matt Deighton saw that the UK’s healthcare professionals were in desperate need of PPE, he wondered whether the company could help and over the Easter bank holiday weekend reached out to local ’scrubs hubs’ on Facebook for information and then to suppliers for material before asking staff if they would volunteer from furlough to make PPE equipment. All of their scrubs will be donated, free of charge to local health services in the east Lancashire area. The company has also cut fabric for other local sewers and turned their premises into a pick-up and drop-off point for other makers. Now the company is urging people to support their local scrub hubs, whether by making things or by donating.

Deighton said: “With so much bad news circulating at the moment, we’ve all felt quite down and helpless for the last few weeks. But, being able to contribute and support those on the frontline has helped to put a spring back in all of our steps.

“Our staff, who otherwise would have been sitting at home with nothing to do, have told us they love that they’re able to come in and volunteer for a great cause. It really helps to have a sense of purpose, and I’m so glad we’re able to support our local health workers at this difficult time.”

Image: Shutterstock

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