HSE chief criticises ‘modern-day piracy’ of international market for PPE

Separately, Paul Reid urges private sector hospital consultants to sign up to proposed new contract

There is "modern-day piracy" going on in the sourcing and purchasing of personal protection equipment (PPE) worldwide, the Health Service Executive (HSE) chief executive Paul Reid has said.

Speaking at a briefing at UCD on Sunday, Mr Reid said PPE was like gold dust internationally and “you find when stock is secured, somebody is outbidding you at the delivery stage”.

However, he said the €210 million order that the HSE has put in to source PPE and ventilators, mostly in China, was a "reasonable price" to pay and the organisation had not been outbid or denied the necessary equipment.

Later on Sunday, Mr Reid urged private sector hospital consultants to sign up to a proposed new contract which would see them treating only public patients during the current Covid-19 crisis.


He said some consultants had already signed up to the new deal which would see the consultants paid between €141,000 and €195,000. No details on the numbers who had taken up the contract were provided.

However, many of the 600 fully private sector consultants are concerned that the State will not reimburse them for the cost of paying their staff and operating their rooms while they worked exclusively in the public service. They fear their practices would become financially unviable under the Government’s proposals.

The State Claims Agency has extended for one week, until next Sunday night, a temporary facility to allow private sector consultants who have not signed up to the proposed new contract to treat patients in private hospitals which have been taken over by the public system while covered by its clinical indemnity scheme.

Mr Reid said he was calling on the private sector consultants to sign the proposed public contracts “and work with us through this very difficult phase and I am confident that this is what will happen”.

PPE difficulties

Speaking at the UCD briefing, Mr Reid praised the Chinese ambassador to Ireland He Xiangdong for his interventions in helping Ireland secure PPE and said without his help "we wouldn't have secured what we have secured".

Mr Reid said the first batch of PPE worth €31 million had been distributed and some of the 20 per cent of it that was deemed unsuitable for use with Covid-19 will be used in other parts of the health service.

He said the difficulties with the first order were being “fully addressed” in the second delivery order worth €67 million. It was supposed to land in May and June, but the delivery is being accelerated and the first planes arrived from China on Saturday.

A third order of €130 million containing gowns, gloves and respirator masks is in the pipeline.

Additional supply lines have been found in Ireland and in other countries, he added.

“The supply of PPE will always be a major challenge to us because the demands are very similar across the world,” he said

"Though we have secured and we are in a much stronger position than countries in Europe, it remains a key focus for us to keep our staff and the public safe."

He urged healthcare staff to be “extremely prudent” in their use of PPE.

The HSE said it had tested 4,000 healthcare workers and residents in nursing homes over the weekend for Covid-19. Mr Reid said there was now a “very significant ramp-up” of testing in nursing homes where there are currently 248 separate suspected outbreaks.

The HSE has also eliminated the backlog of people waiting for tests over the last week. The 27 laboratories, one of which is in Germany, are now processing 10,000 test results a day.

The situation with reagents has improved with 150,000 reagents sourced from China. There had also been 11,500 swab tests carried out last week on suspected cases of Covid-19, Mr Reid outlined.

HSE national clinical adviser Dr Colm Henry said the situation in nursing homes was not unique to Ireland and many countries were struggling with outbreaks in such settings.

He said it was not always obvious when patients in nursing home care settings were exhibiting signs of Covid-19 as many did not show a fever in the early stages because their immune systems were not capable of fighting the disease.

He defended the HSE’s handling of outbreaks in nursing home following criticism that it did not act quickly enough to deal with the threats from the beginning.

“This from the beginning has been an evolving situation. We know so much more now that we knew a few weeks ago,” he said.

“The case definition has changed, the focus has changed. It was only a few weeks ago we were looking at our acute hospitals being overrun and our intensive care units overrun. We can take some solace from our suppression of the virus in the community.

“The biggest challenge for us now is nursing homes and the outbreaks there. It is a challenge faced by every country because of the vulnerability of that population. It is becoming clearer to know that we need to progressively test these people, identify these people and go beyond the case definition and look at people who don’t have symptoms at all and test so we can distinguish outbreaks wherever they are.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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