One of the biggest challenges we are facing at the moment is getting the right material to the right people in the right amounts at the right time. It’s a huge logistical and procurement challenge which applies equally to testing (including some of the chemicals and kit required), the various categories of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical devices like ventilators and CPAP machines, and, in some cases already, oxygen.
It is made massively more difficult by the fact that the entire world is seeking to procure the very same material – and there has been evidence at least of ‘poaching’ as countries seek to out-manoeuvre each other to get the front of the queue.
In Wales, we already have reports from the front-line which suggest a serious shortage of PPE. And the expectations are for this to get worse as the guidelines mean more people will need more protection more often. On testing, we are currently only testing 1,100 people a day when the Welsh Government was planning for that to be 6,000 before the deal with Roche collapsed. So what can we do to help turn things around?
Given the scale and complexity of the procurement task and its mission-critical nature I’ve suggested the Welsh Government appoints one person with executive authority to lead the entire Welsh COVID procurement response. The Democrats in the United States have made a similar call for a Supply Chain Czar. Tony Blair has called for a Minister for Testing.
Some people have drawn historic parallels with the appointment of Lloyd George as Minister for Munitions in the middle of the First World War or Lord Beaverbrook as Minister of Supply during the Second World War. But whether it’s a Minister of Medical Supplies or a Procurement Tsar, someone from outside Government with relevant experience in supply chain management or logistics, having one person with the power to make quick decisions, the ability to coordinate efforts across Wales and respond creatively to this huge challenge seems to me absolutely vital at this time.
The First Minister has said he is agnostic about the question of a Minister for Testing for the UK. But in Wales – from testing to PPE – this is the time, not for agnosticism, but for action. I hope he will respond positively to our constructive and very urgent suggestion.