Additional reporting by PA
Doctors have urged the Government to come clean over how long it will take to address problems with some Chinese coronavirus protective equipment.
Images posted online show gowns with three-quarter length sleeves, leaving arms exposed, and some staff have described gear as not fit for purpose.
A €200m order has seen plane-loads of kit arriving in Ireland over recent days, and ministers have vowed good use will be found for it.
It is intended to protect doctors and nurses who are braced for a surge in the number of Covid-19 patients in the Republic’s hospitals over coming weeks.
The organisation representing doctors, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), warned: “It is unacceptable to expect frontline health care staff to work without proper protection.”
Health chiefs have acknowledged supplies in some cases are different from what Irish medics are used to.
They are attempting to source additional equipment.
The IMO said: “We welcome the acceptance by the Health Service Executive (HSE) that there are problems with the recent supply from China and the fact that they are pursuing changes to future orders and alternate suppliers.
“However, we must again stress that doctors and other healthcare workers need assurances on the issues around personal protection equipment – the supply lines and the timelines in which the issues will be addressed in an open and transparent way.”
It said it was monitoring the ongoing situation closely.
“High quality and reliable personal protective equipment is an absolute necessity for frontline medical professionals and those working in each setting have to have access for the appropriate personal protective equipment for their roles so as to protect themselves, patients, and continue working in what are already highly stressful environments.”
Ireland’s Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said available equipment was different from that which the country’s healthcare professionals are used to.
“It is being tested and assessed by the HSE.
“Good use will be found for it. We will continue to look for additional equipment.
“It has become such a competitive environment for this equipment and we are looking at this all the time.”
The HSE has been forced to seek alternative sources of personal protective equipment (PPE) following issues with the quality and size of some supplies ordered from China.
Since Sunday last planeloads of PPE have been arriving into the country, as part of a €200 million plus order by the HSE for vital protective gear for frontline staff fighting the Covid-19 outbreak.
Issues have emerged with the size and quality of some of the supplies delivered to hospital and ambulance staff, such as gowns and face masks.
It is not clear how much of the order is impacted but HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said it will seek alternative supplies in the event materials from China do not materialise as expected.
HSE Clinical Lead for Infection Control, Professor Martin Cormican, told RTÉ: “Some of it is suitable for use and some of it has limited use and some of it is not suitable for use. It’s useful for us to have this new supply line and a good deal of the material that has come in will be useful to us and that’s really important because it’s quite hard internationally to secure this."
Professor Cormican said it is important to keep the supply line open to gain access to the materials that were suitable.
“We’ll have to work with the suppliers and make sure that those items that don’t meet our standards, we don’t want to receive any more of those items but the items that are of use to us we need to keep that supply line open.”
The HSE Clinical Lead said he understands there is enough PPE to meet the needs of healthcare staff at the moment
"I think we’re okay for now based on what we can see and our projections but it is a very volatile situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, a shortage of protective eye kit has also meant that some healthcare staff have been asked to disinfect and reuse goggles that are normally for single use only.
Professor Cormican said that reuse is an issue of “very real concern” in a number of healthcare settings and that it was supposed to be ended with the arrival of the new equipment.
Paul Reid advised staff in a video update that efforts are being made to address any concerns about supplies.
“We have been in negotiations worldwide to secure a very significant order of over €200 million and that delivery has started over the last few days,” he said. “We are, however, engaged worldwide to secure alternative stocks should these supplies not materialise to the extent expected. It is a very competitive worldwide market but our own procurement teams have done really well to secure what we have to date."
In recent weeks the Netherlands recalled 1.3 million face masks produced in China because they did not meet the required safety standards or fit properly. The Dutch Ministry of Health said the shipment did not to meet its quality standard and would not be used.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said of the imported PPE equipment that he is confident the Irish taxpayer is getting value for money.
“It is the case that some of the equipment will be different to what healthcare workers are used to. The HSE is now involved in testing and assessing it and finding uses for it to protect frontline staff. We are also continuing to seek all opportunities to acquire new PPE.
“We do acknowledge that some of the equipment is different but good use will be found for it.”