The government’s PPE portal
South London practice owner, Nevin Govindasami, on how vital the government’s PPE service has been this autumn
I run a handful of small community practices in South London. They are situated in Croydon, Lambeth and Lewisham. Our practices are small, with patient demographics that are hugely mixed across the areas.
During the first four weeks of lockdown we were closed, as per the majority of practices. When we opened our services to offer urgent and emergency eye care only, via the local Minor Eye Conditions Services and Croydon Community Ophthalmology Service services, the government’s personal protective equipment (PPE) portal was not yet available.
PPE was imperative for all practitioners, in order to stay safe when seeing patients. Initially face-to-face consultations were not that frequent, though, as most consultations were performed remotely via video or telephone.
As time progressed the need for face-to-face appointments increased in demand, due to the amount of hospital and GP referrals sent to us. These ranged from the standard lid lumps and flashes/floaters to painful red eyes. Differential diagnoses were imperative to be able to assist in the appropriate management strategy.
Patients really needed to be seen, so I sourced our own PPE. This was quite expensive at the beginning as there were limited suppliers, and the few suppliers that were available were charging a huge amount due to the demand. As we approached June we were helped significantly by our Local Optical Committees (LOCs), who managed to source appropriate PPE at a very reasonable fee. Communication within our LOCs was fantastic and we all kept in close contact throughout the initial part of the pandemic, when it was still uncertain what could be done at a safe level.
When routine examinations were allowed again, we opened our doors fully. Appointments were vetted, booking in essential eye care. Appointments filled up quickly and we were soon booked up weeks in advance. The PPE cost had risen as changing of PPE between each patient was required, which included gloves, aprons and face masks. This obviously had a huge impact on costs to the business.
The expansion of the PPE portal to cover NHS optical contractors and optometrists with NHS contracts happened in August. This was welcomed after the portal was piloted in April, initially onboarding GP practices and small adult social care providers up to June.
It was as easy as registering for an online shopping account
The portal was very easy to use, right from the beginning. We had an email sent through, which allowed us to register, then we could start to process our orders immediately. It was as easy as registering for an online shopping account. Communication on the awareness and how to use the portal from our LOCs was fantastic and made life so much easier.
Equipment ordered via the portal only takes around four days to arrive. It’s a fantastic service – it’s delivered straight to one of my practices, and then I distribute it to my other three. We order hand sanitiser, aprons and face masks once a week. Obviously face masks are important, as they are required for both staff and patients. We give the hand sanitiser to patients as soon as they walk into the practice, at the reception desk, and in the testing room. Gloves and face masks are used by all staff in the practice, with aprons being used by the practitioner. These are changed between patients, so you can imagine how many we get through.
Having easy access to PPE has made life so much easier over the past few months. Practice staff can order as and when they require. Having just one source supplier is great – there is no more need to source from different suppliers, which saves our practice lots of time as well as cost.
The portal has definitely helped our staff to know that there is somewhere reliable and approved that they can source PPE from. This was something they were worried about before the portal launched. Now, they are reassured.
The fact that the PPE supply has been approved for our specific needs is utterly crucial. Before, it was a case that we had a lot of questions about what type of PPE we would require to ensure safety, what to order, how often to change it, and so on. We were quite often ordering from UK-based companies, however the delivery packaging was from China. Obviously, this was slightly worrying at the time.
We will continue to use the portal for as long as we need to keep a steady and efficient supply of PPE coming into our practices. I find it very efficient, and it is incredibly user-friendly.
The PPE portal has been great for us and we will be continuing to use it
A limit on the amount that you are able to place in one order means that stocks on the site are sufficient and prevents abuse of the service. Initially supplies on the PPE portal were low, so we continued to source our own PPE to keep sufficient stocks. Presently supplies on the PPE portal are very much in stock, meaning it is far easier to keep our practices stocked with supplies. Overall, the PPE portal has been great for us and we will be continuing to use it appropriately.
The portal has been fantastic in assisting our practices with supply. Staff and patients are very happy. The PPE is supplied at no charge to the practice, which is a great help with the ever-increasing costs that the practices have to take on. Thank you to the PPE portal.
Register and access the PPE Portal using your NHS registered email. If you do not have an NHS registered email, for a limited time there is a more streamlined process for GOS contracting practices to obtain a NHSmail account which requires the completion of an online form.
As of Tuesday 24th November 2020, over 43,000 eligible primary care and social care providers in England had registered with the PPE portal. Of the more than 2,400 optometry providers that have registered, over 95% have ordered. Those who are eligible will receive an email inviting them to sign up to the PPE portal. Emails will come from PPE Dedicated Supply Channel (please note this email address does not accept incoming emails): [email protected]
More guidance, including order limits for optometrists based on sight tests conducted, can be found here.
The Department of Health and Social Care has also produced a five-minute video on ‘How to order PPE using the PPE Portal’, available here.
Call the customer service team on 0800 876 6802 if you have any questions about using the PPE portal (including, for example, about registration, ordering, and if you think you should have been invited but have not been). The team is available from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week, to help resolve your queries.
Distribution of free PPE through the PPE Portal has been extended to the end of June 2021. Eligible health and social care providers can continue to order PPE through the portal to meet the increased need arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.