The shortage of PPE for our health and care workers has been one of the worst scandals in government handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It seems to have been mostly a question of competence with a failure to maintain stocks and procure and distribute efficiently. Recently there have also been suggestions that contracts worth up to £180milliom were awarded to companies associated with prominent Conservative Party supporters. This has added fresh doubts about the decision-making process.
As we begin to contemplate needing facemasks for the foreseeable future, new questions inevitably arise about further supplies. I’ve discovered to my surprise that some of the government multi-million-pound contracts and panic buying measures, remember the fiasco over that shipment from Turkey, may have been completely unnecessary. There’s an army of volunteers all around the country, with a division right here in Birmingham, of mainly women who sew. Scrub Hub South Birmingham have been working together for months, supplying scrubs to hospitals and other care settings in Birmingham, Solihull and parts of Warwickshire. The woman who organises this operation lives within a 10-minute walk of my own front door. These are women (and some men) of all ages, some are retired but many others are career women who’ve been utilising their skills for fund raising, purchasing and logistics as well as sewing. They are working online to forge a remarkable organisation which stretches the length and breadth of our country and have even been able to rope in celebrities, like Birmingham comedian Joe Lycett, as volunteer delivery drivers.
Right now, they’re turning their sewing machines to the production of facemasks. There’s been limited media attention and not much in the way of ministerial congratulations. It’s almost as if there’s a reluctance to acknowledge how successful thy have been at tackling an issue which has proved so problematic for government.
I say, let’s hear it for the ‘Sewists’ as they’ve become known. Women all over this country who have stepped into the breach and provided essential PPE when needed. It’s time for some recognition, maybe awarding a few honours and a very big thank you from ministers.