Boris Johnson last night saluted the 'incredible generosity' of Mail readers at the end of one of the most successful newspaper appeals in modern times.
After the Mail Force charity donated its 40 millionth piece of personal protective equipment to the war on Covid-19 – with more to come – the PM said the campaign was a 'remarkable example of what we can achieve when we pull together to fight a common foe'. NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said Mail Force was a 'historic charity mission'.
Created by this newspaper as an emergency response to a national PPE shortage, Mail Force is about to complete its winter stockpile of protective equipment for charities on the Covid-19 frontline. It will spend its last reserves on state-of-the-art machinery for the North East, leaving a permanent legacy stretching from Shetland to London's East End.
It comes as the last donations to Mail Force took the total past £11.7 million, exceeding all expectations.
Since the early days of the pandemic, our overarching priority has been to protect healthcare workers, not just in the NHS but also in the care home and charity sectors.
There have been no office overheads or staffing costs to swallow up precious funds.
Every penny donated by tens of thousands of readers, royalty and some of Britain's most eminent philanthropists has gone straight into the fight against coronavirus.
Boris Johnson last night saluted the 'incredible generosity' of Mail readers at the end of one of the most successful newspaper appeals in modern times
This week, we will have acquired enough supplies of PPE to see two more of Britain's best-known charities through the worst of the winter. It means the pieces of PPE procured by Mail Force will reach 42,304,000 – and a broad range of equipment it has been, too.
As well as tens of millions of masks and aprons, the total includes an airliner full of 50,000 fluid-resistant all-in-one coveralls and a convoy of lorries bringing 100,000 gowns across Europe. While much has been acquired overseas, we have also helped establish new production lines in the UK.
Latterly, we have provided the most advanced testing machinery for some of Britain's leading medical institutions.
The final beneficiary will be the Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust. This is the trust which treated Britain's first Covid-19 patient, and it remains a key hub for the control of infectious disease across the North. Mr Johnson said last night: 'The Mail Force campaign is a remarkable achievement. I'd like to pay tribute to Mail readers for their incredible generosity and public spiritedness. Your contribution made a real difference to doctors, nurses and care workers on the frontline.'
After the Mail Force charity donated its 40 millionth piece of personal protective equipment to the war on Covid-19 – with more to come – the PM said the campaign was a 'remarkable example of what we can achieve when we pull together to fight a common foe'
Sir Simon added: 'On behalf of everyone in the NHS, I would like to say thank you to the Daily Mail, Mail Force and all those who have supported this quite remarkable and historic charity mission.
'The vital PPE and state-of-the-art testing machines that their generosity has provided have been hugely appreciated wherever they have been received across the heath service and care sector.
'This very practical expression of support for the NHS during the greatest health emergency in our history has helped nurses, doctors, therapists and other staff who have cared for more than 110,000 hospital patients with Covid-19.'
While Mail Force vans have been delivering to hospitals, care homes and charities, the vast majority of our PPE has gone straight to the main NHS distribution hub in Daventry. From there, it has been delivered wherever it was needed most.
Our campaign has included all the devolved nations, all health services and all forms of healthcare. Donors can rest assured that they have secured quality PPE and machinery for every corner of the kingdom – often in the face of global shortages.
Pictured is Daily Mail writer Robert Hardman witnessing four million PPE masks arrive from China to Bournemouth as part of the Mail Force's charity movement
As part of this week's final allocation of Mail Force funds, a new £422,000 order for 2.16 million masks and 1.4 million aprons will be shared by Marie Curie, which provides care for the terminally ill, and the learning disability charity, Mencap. These will be delivered in regular deliveries to the regional hubs of the two charities until the end of January.
Edel Harris, chief executive of Mencap, said: 'This winter is going to be tough for everyone but particularly for the people who we support. The closure of day services, loss of routine and difficulties staying in touch with family means that people have been struggling to cope.
'Our support workers have been going above and beyond to create a sense of normality and community.
'In some cases, they are the only contact some people have. A heartfelt thank you to Mail Force and Daily Mail readers.' The grant to Newcastle upon Tyne includes a new £50,000 Kingfisher purification system, for extracting viral RNA, along with two £10,000 airtight cabinets for working with infectious samples and a £30,000 storage system for archiving serum containing antibodies.
'We are the only high consequence infectious disease unit for the North of England and Scotland so this equipment really is incredibly useful,' the trust's chairman, geneticist Professor Sir John Burn, said yesterday. 'We are all extremely grateful to Mail Force for the donation.'
Our charity has also spent more than £1 million in 'gold standard' PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing systems for hospitals across the UK, including two of Britain's best-known institutions for children, Great Ormond Street in London and Alder Hey in Liverpool. These machines will be used to detect a range of viruses, not just Covid-19, long after the pandemic is over.
For Mail Force is not just about making a difference here and now. Its legacy will endure for years to come.
Comment – Page 20
Heroes all! Mail and you to the PPE rescue: Readers' epic response to our call to arms
By Robert Hardman
Nurses with bin liners as uniforms; terrified pensioners trapped in germ-filled care homes; phones ringing off the hook in empty warehouses; the Prime Minister in intensive care. And with every passing day, another gallant key worker struck down in the line of duty...
It's easy to forget just how bleak things were back in the spring.
That, however, was the catalyst for one of the most extraordinary newspaper campaigns of modern times: just days later, on a rainy evening at a near-deserted Heathrow, I watched an airliner stuffed with 20 tons of personal protective equipment (PPE) arrive from the other side of the world.
Within hours its precious cargo was on its way to the UK front line. A triumph of sorts – except that it was only the start.
It was back in early April that the chairman and editor of this newspaper finally decided that enough was enough. Though it is the media's job to prod and poke the government of the day, there is a quid pro quo. When things get really bad, so the Mail believes, the right to criticise comes with an obligation to help. That time had come.
The British public had shown that they were desperate to assist in whatever way they could. There were touching stories of schools making face shields for the local hospital, of restaurants sending dinner to the nearest intensive care unit and so on. The problem, however, was a shortage of proper PPE. No amount of clapping on doorsteps could produce that. And the UK, along with most nations, was having to fight over dwindling supplies in a global marketplace.
Sir Simon added: 'On behalf of everyone in the NHS, I would like to say thank you to the Daily Mail, Mail Force and all those who have supported this quite remarkable and historic charity mission'
So the Mail decided to help. A small group of us from various parts of this company was given a simple instruction: fill an airliner with PPE and deliver it to the NHS front line. We were in no doubt that, having done it once, our famously generous readers would want to do it again and again. Their response would bowl us over. Speed was of the essence. Thanks to the staff at the Charity Commission, we registered a new charity – Mail Force – in a matter of days.
We talked to the highest echelons of the NHS and established clear guidelines. First, we would not touch existing NHS supply lines. It would be futile to bid against our own side. Second, we would not donate anything without formal approval from the Department of Health's own experts.
There were numerous reports of dubious agents and faulty goods crowding the market. Nearly all the world's PPE came from China so that was where we would have to focus. Two things were vital: know-how and funding. The Mail, its chairman Viscount Rothermere and his family had donated an initial £1.25million but we were going to need much more. US software giant Salesforce was already sourcing PPE for hospitals in America and wanted to help. Its co-founder and chief executive Marc Benioff agreed to match initial donations up to £3million. Fund management experts Marshall Wace were on board with another £1million through chief executive, Ian Wace.
Philanthropists Hans and Julia Rausing directed £1million of their Covid emergency fund to Mail Force. Despite the urgency, we had to examine all offers of PPE very carefully. Some kit lacked the necessary certification. Some did not meet Public Health England specifications.
The NHS was particularly short of isolation gowns and had told us that it was seeking coveralls as well. We found a supplier of high-quality, hooded 'hazmat'-style coveralls which met all the requirements and managed to secure 50,000 of them at the market rate. We had a chartered Boeing 787 Dreamliner on standby. Our agents also offered us 100,000 basic Type II masks to fill the remaining cabin space. All told, here was 20 tons of vital PPE. The Department of Health team (who were working round the clock) checked it all out and gave their approval. Mail Force One was on its way to Shanghai.
It was a nervous wait. Just days earlier, the Canadian government had sent two jets to Shanghai to collect tons of PPE only to fly home empty-handed. I had a recurring nightmare of opening up our cargo to discover boxes full of plastic ducks or computer parts. Even so, it was a gratifying moment to be standing in the rain on the Heathrow ring road on the evening of April 28 watching our plane thundering out of a dark grey sky. Overnight, the cargo cleared customs (no ducks, mercifully) and, by dawn, was on its way to the NHS's central distribution centre in the Midlands.
A small fleet of hired Mail Force vans helped make some of the first deliveries to Milton Keynes University Hospital. A day later, they went to care homes and charities.
While most of our PPE would go to the NHS, staff were keen for us to help other healthcare workers in need. In most cases we were delivering to places which had dutifully planned their PPE but had been let down or were running low.
I well recall arriving at one New Forest care home where staff were down to their last day's supply of equipment when our van pulled up. They were jumping for joy. By then this newspaper had launched its appeal on behalf of the charity. Having spent £1million on that first airlift, Mail Force had to keep on delivering. The response was staggering. Our readers were unstoppable. We had to despatch extra helpers to our makeshift sorting office in Leicester as the cheques poured in, as well as letters which left many staff in tears. For this had touched a deep nerve, a very deep nerve indeed.
As part of this week's final allocation of Mail Force funds, a new £422,000 order for 2.16 million masks and 1.4 million aprons will be shared by Marie Curie (pictured, a Marie Curie nurse picking up her PPE), which provides care for the terminally ill, and the learning disability charity, Mencap
Take Sylvia Duxbury of Lancashire. She had just lost her beloved husband of 48 years, John, to Covid-19. The retired auditor, grandfather and great-grandfather had been a resident at the Alexandra Nursing Home in Poulton-le-Fylde and Sylvia had been immensely touched by the way the staff had looked after John. So she made a generous donation to Mail Force in his memory, praising the charity for 'grasping the nettle'.
By way of thanks, the home invited Sylvia and her daughter to be there when the Mail Force van arrived. It was an emotional moment. Elsewhere, at the Croft House care home in West Yorkshire, the jubilant staff very sweetly baked their van driver a cake.
Among our earliest donors was the Duchess of Cornwall. 'I'm delighted to contribute towards this magnificent campaign,' she said. Former prime minister Sir John Major praised Mail Force for 'avoiding heartache and misery for many thousands', a view echoed by fellow ex-PM Gordon Brown, actor Sir Michael Caine and singer Sir Cliff Richard.
Actress Dame Emma Thompson made a handsome donation by way of thanking all of the NHS, especially those in Scotland who had been caring for her mother. As word continued to spread, so the campaign kept gathering momentum. Stagecoach founder Sir Brian Souter donated £500,000 and we received £200,000 from the Scheinberg Relief Fund.
Businessmen Lord (Michael) Spencer and Sir Tom Hunter each sent us a generous six-figure sum as did the Duke of Westminster. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, sent us £200,000 while US investment bank Jefferies sent $100,000 (£75,000) in memory of its British-born chief financial officer Peregrine 'Peg' Broadbent, who died of Covid-19. Jeremy Darroch, head of Sky, donated both money and television advertising slots.
All the while our readers were bombarding us with generosity and often heartbreaking stories. As a result those airlifts kept on coming. We continued to seek new and better sources of PPE (early on, one small batch of Chinese masks, for example, came with the right EU certification but lacked the highest-grade fluid resistance and the factory was later accused of using slave labour; we never touched their kit again).
Our operation grew and grew. I watched a million masks touch down at Stansted. Weeks later, we flew a holiday jet into Bournemouth airport packed with no fewer than four million masks on board. I went aboard to find them stuffed into every last seat, overhead locker and even one of the loos.
These were all superior Type IIR fluid-resistant masks sourced by our excellent Lancashire-based partners, the ISSA Group. We wanted to start sourcing home-grown PPE, too. With ISSA we supported a new production line in Blackburn. When Griffin Mill, a former carpet factory, switched to producing hospital aprons, we bought the first run of 1.5million. They were such good aprons – so said the NHS staff who tried them – that we ordered nearly 20million.
We placed similar orders for new British-made face masks. When Bluetree, a Rotherham-based printing operation, announced it was opening a new plant making masks, Mail Force ordered the first six million. We also ordered half a million face visors from the Kingsbury Press, another printer-turned-PPE producer near Doncaster.
By summer NHS supplies had stabilised thanks to the new PPE 'tsar' Lord Deighton. But the care and charity sectors were still desperately short of kit. Mail Force teamed up with the Salvation Army to help distribute millions of masks and aprons. We have now bought enough of them to supply more than a dozen much-loved charities through to 2021.
In recent weeks we have been providing top-of-the-range testing machinery across the UK. The three most remote hospitals in the country – on Shetland, Orkney and in Stornoway in the Western Isles – each received an £80,000 stand-alone BD Max testing machine.
Mail Force has spent £300,000 on a new three-part system for London's Great Ormond Street Hospital. 'This is a really significant amount of money and this kit is as good as it gets,' said general manager Nick Towndrow.
And so it goes on. This has been a campaign like no other in response to a crisis like no other. You, our readers, have been quite magnificent. We cannot thank you all in person. But wherever you live, rest assured that your donation has not only reached every corner of the country but that it has made a real difference. Let's hope we don't need to do it again. But if we do, we know whom to ask.
Up and down the country, why your donations mean so much to so many
By Robert Hardman
While you are reading this, Tracy Linstead, 43, will probably be asleep. She is a healthcare assistant for Marie Curie, caring for terminally ill people in their homes – usually at night.
Sometimes she is looking after someone with late-stage cancer who lives alone; sometimes she is helping a family get a decent night's sleep by sitting up until morning with a loved one with dementia or Parkinson's disease.
Whatever their illnesses, her patients are, for obvious reasons, at the far end of the vulnerable spectrum. That means rigorous use of top- quality PPE – which is where Mail Force comes in. 'I can get through several masks a night and then there is all the other kit too,' she whispers over the phone as she settles down for another night on duty in her home county of Devon.
'It's surprising how much we go through.'
Tracy cannot afford any gaps in her PPE supply. When she arrives at a patient's house, she must be fully togged-up before she steps through the door. After every visit, she logs all the PPE she has used so that she knows what is left and what needs topping up.
Thanks to Mail Force – and a few other people along the way – it just keeps on coming. Our charity is now committed to keeping Marie Curie stocked with PPE for the winter. Every few weeks between now and the end of January, the Mail Force lorry will be delivering hundreds of thousands of masks and aprons to Marie Curie depots around the country.
From there, however, it needs to be despatched to an army of charity workers scattered far and wide. In the South West alone, Marie Curie's regional team of 250 nurses will get through 20,000 pieces of protective equipment in a week. Distributing all that – from Penzance to Bournemouth – is easy enough if you're a retailer, but not if you are a charity counting the pennies. Fortunately, Marie Curie has some extra help.
The Spar supermarket chain has arranged for its South West distribution arm, Appleby Westward, to drop off PPE supplies addressed to each nurse at their nearest Spar branch. It means that healthcare workers in the field can simply drop in at their local store and pick up their PPE when it suits them, often at night en route to work.
Cancer survivor Adam Finch (pictured) is cycling 200 miles on his exercise bike to raise money for a charity supported by Mail Force
'We are incredibly grateful to Mail Force for the PPE and to Spar for their outstanding support in the South West,' says Marie Curie's chief nurse, Julie Pearce, adding that a similar arrangement is under way in the North of England.
'It's a great system and it just makes things that little bit easier,' says Tracy Linstead.
Much later in the evening, she sends me an email while she watches over her sleeping patient, an elderly man who lives alone. 'He has no family or friends we can call,' she says.
'Us having the PPE available really can make a difference as to whether a patient dies alone or has somebody with them at the end. To me, the most important part of my role is to treat a patient as I would want my loved ones to be treated and make them feel safe and not alone. Thank you!' There, in a nutshell, is why your donations have meant so much to so many.
Vital supplies for a child cancer trust
Cancer survivor Adam Finch is cycling 200 miles on his exercise bike to raise money for a charity supported by Mail Force.
The Rainbow Trust was there for the 13-year-old – who was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged eight – and his family when they needed support. And in turn, the trust relied on a steady supply of PPE from Mail Force this year.
Now Adam is determined to help the charity by getting on his bike.
The Rainbow Trust gives practical and emotional support to children with life-threatening and terminal illnesses. Mail Force delivered 19,000 face masks and 3,500 aprons to help.
Adam, from Stockport, his parents Clare and Dave, and sister Megan, 16, came to rely on the trust and its support worker Sean Tansey, as the youngster battled through aggressive radiotherapy and chemotherapy which have left him with life-changing, debilitating problems.
Adam said: 'I was in hospital for nearly a year and Sean visited me every week. He would come and read a book to me, or help me build some Lego. We also played loads of board games.' Mrs Finch, 46, said: 'When you get a diagnosis like Adam's your world ends. It was like a grenade going off in the middle of our lovely family.'
Mr Tansey said: 'We were extremely grateful for the donation from Mail Force. The majority of our children feel very vulnerable. This PPE enabled our support workers to safely go out on house visits again.'
To sponsor Adam go to: www.rainbowtrust.org.uk/ be-more-adam
By Liz Hull
It is the same story with Mencap, which cares for thousands of people with a learning disability. During the summer, Mail Force was delighted to give the charity a large donation of masks and aprons. It made a substantial difference, so much so that we wanted to help Mencap through the second wave of coronavirus this winter. All told, Mail Force will end up providing the charity with 4.4million pieces of PPE to help its crucial work.
I have come to Salisbury to pay a visit (outdoors only, of course) to one of hundreds of operations which Mencap runs across the UK. This terraced house is home to five women, aged from 37 to 76, living with a range of learning disabilities and assisted by a team of eight staff. Having been with Mencap for 12 years, support worker Karen Shearing explains the importance of PPE to daily life here. 'We could not give our ladies the same quality of life without it,' she says. 'We are providing a lot of close contact support – personal and emotional support – and you can't do that at a two-metre distance.' Routine and familiarity are essential to a place like this.
So it was a challenge when the virus struck in the spring, forcing the instant cancellation of regular trips to day centres and the local swimming pool.
Another challenge was introducing the requisite PPE for staff without alarming the residents. 'We tried to make putting on masks as much fun as possible and it seems to have worked,' says Karen.
It is clearly a very happy place with gales of laughter coming out of the kitchen. I get a cheery wave from Mel, 47, whom staff call 'the lockdown legend' because of her enthusiasm for all the home-based activities introduced since the pandemic began.
'We are having to do more in the house than ever before. We've also started a café in the garden to make things more fun,' Karen explains. 'It's working really well. But we still need to change our PPE every few hours and I am probably getting through five masks a day.
'That's just how things have to be. So a huge thank you to Mail Force.' Like every charity, Mencap is struggling. 2020 was supposed to have been a bumper year because the charity was the main beneficiary of the London Marathon. Instead, donations have nose-dived.
The charity has been doing all it can to bolster morale –its patron, the Countess of Wessex, joined Mencap supporters running a virtual London Marathon through Windsor Great Park last month – but no one is going to look back on this year with any enthusiasm. At least Mail Force has helped to fill a gap.
This campaign has always been about protecting those who do the caring – and that includes testing.
Mail Force's final donation – amounting to more than £90,000 –goes to the hospital which handled the very first case of Covid-19 in the UK.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, which has 1.7 million patients within its immediate orbit and many more across the wider region it serves, will receive a new Kingfisher purification system for extracting the virus from samples.
It will also receive two microbiologically-secure safety cabinets and a system for archiving serum containing antibodies.
'All this makes a real difference in terms of accelerating testing, accelerating the learning curve and protecting our staff,' says the trust's chairman, Professor Sir John Burn, the distinguished clinical geneticist.
'We have to think of this pandemic as rather like flying a plane while we are still building it.
'So this machinery will be pivotal both in terms of testing and research now.
'But it will be really helpful in dealing with other viruses in the future too.'
For while Newcastle may have been the first hospital to handle the current coronavirus – and Sir John is very proud of the way his colleagues rose to the challenge that day – he has no doubt that something else will be coming down the track in due course.