Coronavirus: Some items in new PPE supply ‘not suitable’, HSE says

Equipment said to cost €200m as Chinese ambassador says all must work in ‘spirit of cooperation’

Some of the new supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) secured last weekend by the HSE is not suitable for use, the health service has confirmed.

Prof Martin Cormican, HSE national clinical lead for healthcare associated infection and antimicrobial resistance, said the equipment received from a new supplier at the weekend had been looked at by health authorities and that “some of it is suitable for use, some of it has limited use and some of it is not suitable for use”.

“It is useful for us to have this new supply line,” he told RTÉ’s News at One. “A good deal of the material will be useful for us. That is really important as it is quite hard internationally to secure this.”

The evaluation of the equipment revealed some items were “not suitable”, he said, adding that the HSE would continue to work with the supplier to ensure all items reach the necessary high standards.


“…Those items that do not meet our standards, we don’t want to receive any more of those items. But for the items that are useful to us, we need to keep that supply line open.”

Chinese suppliers

Responding to the news that some equipment delivered would not be suitable for use, China's ambassador to Ireland He Xiangdong said it was "quite understandable that from time to time issues might come up" around PPE consignments given the scale of the international demand.

He told The Irish Times that his embassy, the HSE and the IDA remained in regular contact with Chinese PPE suppliers about the “size and specification” of equipment needed in Ireland.

"The scale of this procurement is so large and the suppliers in China are under huge pressures with demands from almost all the world," said the ambassador. "The important thing is that all stakeholders are on the same page and continue to work closely together.

“This is a war against the virus so there will be a lot of issues coming up. The most important thing is we work together to resolve these issues in a spirit of cooperation.”

Mr He said there might be initial confusion among Irish healthcare workers using Chinese manufactured PPE given “different habits of use”.

“There are so many varieties of these products that it’s totally within expectations that there will be minor issues from time to time.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the Government would continue to source alternative PPE but that some of the equipment arriving into the country was different to what Irish health workers might be used to.

The consignment, said to have cost € 200 million, comprised enough equipment to last 11 years in a non-pandemic environment.

He said “good use” would be found for the shipment from China and that the Government would “continue with our efforts to source alternative equipment that will meet everybody’s need.”

The Government is operating in a situation where PPE was being sought by nearly every country in the world and the purchase of PPE had become “exceptionally competitive”, he said.

New equipment

Dr Eavan Muldoon from the Infectious Diseases Society of Ireland agreed that some PPE consignments would be very different to what Irish healthcare workers might have used previously.

“When equipment looks different challenges arise and there’s the need to re-educate around this,” she said. “On a practical level sometimes you wear a gown and sometimes you wear a whole suit. There’s nothing wrong with one versus the other, one may be used in one scenario versus another.”

“With PPE it’s so important you’re doing things in the correct order and ensuring you’re not putting yourself at risk. That’s where our concerns lie, we want to ensure people are using equipment safely and not putting themselves at risk.”

Ms Muldoon underlined that the Government was trying to procure PPE in an “extreme environment where there is worldwide shortage and America are soaking up all the equipment”. “The HSE is working within that global situation right now.”

President of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine Dr Emily O’Connor told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland there was “huge anxiety” among frontline healthcare staff around access to PPE and guidance on how to use it effectively.

The type of PPE used will depend on the level of care required with some staff exposed to “droplet contact” when dealing with patients who are “coughing, sneezing, bleeding”. Other patients will need “multiple aerosol generating procedures which is where virus is sprayed into the environment, under high pressure”, she said. “They’re the ones where the highest level of PPE is required.”

Different advice in different hospitals on how to use protection equipment has caused confusion, said Dr O’Connor. “There is huge anxiety about this for staff,” she said. “We’re simply trying to keep up with the best advice that we can.”

Dr O’Connor said she expected the overall surge in numbers to occur within the next fortnight but added that the surge in nursing homes was already taking place.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times