Personal protective equipment supply in New Zealand

Tod Cooper
TINZ Director
Focus on Procurement

Much has been said and written about the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) in New Zealand. We are never going to get this perfect. But we need to try and get it right for next time, as when it comes to pandemics, history repeats.

I applaud the decision by the Auditor-General to undertake an independent review of the management of personal protective equipment (PPE) during COVID-19.

National PPE distribution system

The Ministry of Health (MoH) is the lead agency responsible for the challenge of sourcing, shipping and distribution of PPE. This includes masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, goggles, etc. They hold no secret that they have struggled with the national and global scale of this pandemic. Their systems were not fit for the response required.

MoH has since established a new national PPE distribution system which includes a centralised logistics team to ensure end-to-end procurement. They have two primary areas of focus: (1) health and (2) non-health.

PPE supply (buying it)

Given the global scale, New Zealand’s orders of tens of million of PPE is only a blip. Therefore it is important that we took a centralised and coordinated approach to our PPE supply chain.

The global demand for N95 surgical masks has been staggering. For example the Malaysian Government ordered 600 million masks for its population. New Zealand simply has a lack of supply chain leverage particularly if it does not ‘pool together’ the country’s needs.

To help source PPE and ensure quality, the MoH engaged people in China. They managed to meet the purchasing requirements for both emergency and essential services' categories under both COVID-19 Alert levels 4 and 3. It was the systems and communication supporting the national distribution that was lacking.

Report Card: 4 out of 5. MoH managed to meet the needs to provide stocks of all PPE equipment to support New Zealand's needs. There have been no publicised quality issues with supplies and no one appears to have been ripped off in the process.

PPE Logistics (shipping it to NZ)

Logistics and freight are the biggest challenge. Availability is limited and freight pricing volatile. It's a case of low supply and high demand coupled with a lack of passengers to subsidise flights.

It is rumoured that some shipments were being redirected at the ports. In a crisis like COVID-19, cash is king after all! The team in China ensured that our shipments left for New Zealand.

Report Card: 3.5 out of 5. Through a series of charter flights, we successfully imported the necessary PPE stocks (albeit at 11th hour) and have regular forward supply commitments to ensure continuity of stocks moving forward.

PPE Distribution (getting it to those in need)

Having spoken to a number of essential service providers and health workers on the front line, the difference in communication and support is staggering. From one who would ask for some hand sanitiser and get a box of the stuff the following day, to another who ‘come love nor money’ could not get hold of any.

The systems that underpin the distribution have been left wanting. This needs serious retooling to ensure a consistent and effective approach and communication.

Report Card: What's the out-of-5 rating? I've heard some positive things. Some of the distribution is clearly working well, but now we need to better understand that and replicate it across all of New Zealand.

Buy Local

Thankfully we have local manufacturing capability in companies such as QSI, with the capacity for 500,000 of masks per week. This gives us some buffer and also showcases our buy local capabilities.

It is also very pleasing to hear a number of “positive contributors”. These are companies like Good George, with ‘Operation Helping Hands’. They were able to adjust their whisky distillery to manufacturing hand sanitiser to meet a public need.

We need to develop more resilience locally. This might just be the catalyst!

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