Desperate hospitals are forced to crowdfund for vital PPE equipment

NHS staff have been forced to fly in their own supplies of visors, masks and gowns after raising millions through crowdfunding.

They have welcomed the donations but say it should never have been necessary.

One appeal – called Masks for NHS Heroes – has already raised £1.8million.

The group, started by a team of NHS doctors, received a delivery of 100,000 visors this weekend, which were yesterday delivered to hospitals. It has also ordered more than 70,000 units of gowns and masks to be delivered around the country this week.

Meanwhile Cambridge University has launched an appeal to raise £5million to buy personal protective equipment from China for local hospitals and social care staff.

NHS staff have been forced to fly in their own supplies of visors, masks and gowns after raising millions through crowdfunding. Pictured is nurse Leilani Dayrit, who died from coronavirus 

The team is being headed by two doctors and Cambridge professors, Toni Vidal Puig and Sadaf Farooqi. They are working with colleagues in China to secure equipment, and said Chinese entrepreneurs have already committed to air-freight supplies at cost price.

Professor Farooqi said: ‘We have secured thousands of items of PPE including masks, gowns and gloves. We are in the process of arranging a flight, and it should arrive in the next week. Our first aim is to get PPE to Cambridge and the East of England and then we hope to help our colleagues around the country.

‘The global situation is very challenging, demand is far outstripping supply. China is currently the only country with the capability for manufacturing at scale. Hopefully soon UK companies will have that capacity, but at the moment urgency is key.’

At least 35 NHS staff have died during the outbreak after testing positive although it is not known how many contracted the virus due to inadequate supplies of PPE.

One appeal – called Masks for NHS Heroes – has already raised £1.8 million. Pictured is Leilani Medel, a nurse at Bridgend, who died from the virus

One appeal – called Masks for NHS Heroes – has already raised £1.8 million. Pictured is Leilani Medel, a nurse at Bridgend, who died from the virus 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers in England which represents hospital trusts, said the number of gowns in some parts of the country was ‘very, very low’.

Full-length surgical gowns are worn in the most high-risk areas, including intensive care. Mr Hopson said: ‘The problem is that the flow of gowns into the country is somewhat erratic. 

‘And there are two or three reasons for that –the first is, that for reasons one would understand, the Chinese are, basically, wanting to test equipment before it arrives. The second is there have been some instances of when boxes of what were meant to be gowns, and were labelled as gowns have arrived, when you open the boxes up they have got masks.’

Although the vast majority of gowns have to be imported from China, some British manufacturers are also stepping up to plug gaps in the supply chain.

Barbour, known for its wax jackets, has transformed part of its factory in South Shields into a production line for PPE. It has begun delivering navy blue gowns to frontline staff at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.

Company chairman, Dame Margaret Barbour, said: ‘The factory, where we normally make our classic wax jackets is no stranger to adaptation. During both world wars, we turned the factory over to make military garments to assist the war effort. We are pleased to once again be able to make a difference and this time, to support the NHS.’

Meanwhile, car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover is making visors for hospital staff, which are being distributed to the frontline.

On Sunday, the Royal College of Nursing told its members to refuse to treat people if they do not have adequate PPE.

One nurse yesterday broke down in tears as she described making the gut-wrenching decision to abandon her shift due to the lack of equipment. The nurse, who has to care for her vulnerable father at home, explained that she was told they had to use one mask for the entire shift when they only last for four hours.

NHS ambulance staff arrive at a call out in London today amid the coronavirus crisis

NHS ambulance staff arrive at a call out in London today amid the coronavirus crisis 

Speaking anonymously to ITV, she said: ‘I just didn’t feel comfortable continuing the shift knowing the PPE I was being offered. I cried for about two hours in my car, I felt it went against everything I believe in.

‘When I came into this industry it was to help people and give my best. The fact that I had to leave, it goes against everything that I go by, but I knew I had to do it because I don’t to be responsible for infecting my father.’ 

They can stop you passing on the virus, but won’t stop you getting it 

Wearing face masks has divided governments and the medical community around the world.

The Department of Health does not currently advise the public to wear face masks as it argues there is ‘no evidence’ they prevent the wearer getting the disease.

They also warn front line healthcare workers are in dire need of masks – so if the public start panic-buying the medical grade ‘N95’ masks, this could put lives at risk. It also says wearing face masks may encourage people to touch their faces, which could increase the spread of the disease and lead to the disregarding of social distancing.

Many Asian countries take a different view and see mask-wearing as a way to protect others by helping to reduce the spread of the disease when they cough – or even just talk, as the virus can be spread that way too. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have changed position and now say a cloth mask that fits snugly and comfortably in public settings may help. They call cloth face coverings ‘an additional, voluntary public health measure.’

Looked at it this way, a face mask may not stop you catching the disease – but might mean you are less likely to spread it to others. But it is no substitute for staying home, handwashing and keeping at least 6ft from outsiders.


Nurses Leilani Dayrit, 47, Melujean Ballesteros, 60, Leilani Medel, 41, and hospital plaster cast technician Kevin Smith have all died from the virus. Mrs Dayrit was a nurse at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby, who was described by her family as ‘selfless, hardworking and compassionate.’ She was known as ‘Mummy Lei’ because she was a mother-like figure to her friend’s children.

Her daughter Mary said: ‘She was a perfect example of an optimist who kept looking on the bright side of things and encouraged everyone to do the same.’

Mrs Ballesteros, who was originally from the Philippines, died at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London, where she had worked. The hospital is one of a number nationwide that has had PPE donated to it in recent days, following the national shortage. The Careys construction group delivered more than 1,000 masks, goggles, gloves and face shields to the hospital. Mrs Ballesteros’s son Rainier, 37, said the mother-of-two was ‘dedicated and very caring’, adding: ‘She loved her work as a nurse.’ Kevin Smith worked putting plaster casts on fracture patients at the Doncaster Royal Infirmary in South Yorkshire, and had worked in the NHS for 35 years. His daughter Ellie Whitley said he was ‘an incredible person who loved his job’. Leilani Medel, from Bridgend in South Wales, worked as an agency nurse in hospitals and care homes. Meanwhile a nurse has been left fighting for her life because she did not have adequate PPE, despite suffering from an underlying health condition. Becky Usher, 38, from Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, last night remained in an intensive care unit where she has been put on a ventilator to breathe.

Last night, Trade Minister Greg Hands said the UK had reached a deal with Egypt to buy PPE. He tweeted: ‘A large number of medical gowns are on their way to the UK – thank you Egypt!’