United Kingdom

No.10 PPE tsar Lord Deighton thanks Mail Force charity for helping supply Britain with hospital kit

Despite tumbling infection rates, there is not the faintest hint of triumphalism here at the south London nerve centre of the national fight against coronavirus. 

And the man whose task is to protect all those on the front line has a very simple plan of action when it comes to future shortages of kit: Never again.

'I'm already planning for the second wave,' says Lord Deighton, the Government's 'PPE tsar', in his first interview since taking charge of the national supply of personal protective equipment.

PPE tsar Lord Deighton (pictured) has a very simple plan of action when it comes to future shortages of kit: Never again. He said he is already planning for the second wave, in his first interview since taking charge of the national PPE supply

We meet at the Southwark HQ of the NHS. It is seven weeks since this ex-banker with a track record in 'big things' – not least delivering the London Olympics – was personally appointed by Boris Johnson.

His task was to get a grip on UK reserves of PPE and to ensure that our healthcare sector never again has to endure those tragic stories which were so prevalent in the early days of this pandemic.

When Lord Deighton arrived, there had been shocking reports of doctors and nurses being despatched in to the Covid trenches in flimsy, sub-standard scrubs; of nurses tending to Covid-positive patients wearing binliners for aprons (and testing positive for the virus days later); of carers being left to fight the virus with washing-up gloves; of deadly infections tearing through unprotected nursing homes like wildfire; of delay upon delay in sourcing fresh equipment from overseas – only for some items to be deemed unusable.

And then, in the midst of it all, the Prime Minister himself was laid low.

It was an appalling situation, one which prompted the Daily Mail to set up Mail Force, the charity which is now delivering millions of pieces of PPE to those in greatest need of it.

At the same time, the Government received a message from a man they knew well. 

'My wife said to me: 'You need to do something here',' recalls Lord Deighton. 'So I got in touch with Number Ten.'  

They said: 'Come and help with PPE.' 

I started with a seven-day plan and then a 90-day plan. Now, we're looking at a two-year plan and a ten-year plan.'

Some have likened the PPE tsar to Lord Beaverbrook (left), the famously combative press baron appointed by Churchill as Minister of Aircraft Production, but Lord Deighton favours a more collegiate approach

But while he has no expertise in epidemiology, the man who served as minister for national infrastructure during the Coalition years knows that his latest 'big thing' is not going away. 

And he is adamant that come the next phase of this virus, the UK will be in a very different state of readiness.

'If we find ourselves in this situation again, we don't want to be relying on people we've never dealt with before. We want to really know who can supply us in times of stress and strain.' 

Every NHS hospital, he says, is now automatically resupplied if any item is within 72 hours of running out. 

It is a different picture in care homes, however. There, some staff still report adequate kit is either hard to come by or unaffordable. 

But Lord Deighton insists things are on the up, that 'local resilience forums' and a new internet portal are ready to cope. 'I do measure what's going on and requests to the emergency hotline. 

HERE'S HOW TO DONATE 

Mail Force Charity has been launched with one aim to help support NHS staff, volunteers and care workers fight back against Covid-1 in the UK.

Mail Force is a separate charity established and supported by the Daily Mail and General Trust. 

The money raised will fund essential equipment required by the NHS and care workers. 

This equipment is vital in protecting the heroic staff whilst they perform their fantastic work in helping the UK overcome this pandemic.

If we raise more money than is needed for vital Covid-1 equipment, we will apply all funds to support the work of the NHS in other ways.

Click the button below to make a donation:

If the button is not visible, click here 

At the end of April there were about 400 a day. Now, there are about 30.'

Now that the national supply is no longer on the brink of catastrophe, his priority is creating a serious British PPE capability. 

Hence, today's announcement of four new Government partnerships with British companies which will be producing millions of hospital gowns, aprons and visors.

Being neither a politician nor on the payroll, he seems to find it easier to admit when things are not as they should be. 

Appearing before this week's health committee, Lord Deighton acknowledged some companies had faced over-zealous Whitehall bureaucracy. 

Then he said something highly unusual: 'I apologise for that.'

However, he is clearly relishing being reunited with a former colleague. 

In 2012, Boris Johnson was London Mayor and Paul Deighton - previously chief operating officer at Goldman Sachs - was the chief executive of the body which organised the 2012 Olympic Games.

Despite the tag of 'PPE tsar', he is not really sure of his real title since he has neither a formal contract nor a salary. 'I think I signed some sort of volunteer agreement,' he says. 

Though some have likened him to Lord Beaverbrook, the famously combative press baron appointed by Churchill as Minister of Aircraft Production on the eve of the Battle of Britain, Lord Deighton favours a more collegiate approach. 

He says he was very impressed by what he found at the procurement offices of the NHS.

'Had I found that things here weren't working or we had dysfunctional relationships, I would have changed it. But actually the only difficult thing I found here was that people were quite tired.' 

Staff were soon encouraged to take at least one day off each weekend. There was another reminder of the 2012 Games – khaki in the corridors. It was the Army who saved the day when the security company hired for the Olympics failed to deliver. 

All three Services are now a key part of PPE logistics. 'The Army are used to finding smoke and everything burning when they come in to a situation. It's a great business lesson.' 

The Daily Mail set up Mail Force, the charity which is now delivering millions of pieces of PPE to those in greatest need of it. Pictured (left to right), Wishmore Care Home's Mel Lengthorn, Debbie Fidgety, and carer Camilla Michalik receiving a Mail Force delivery in Malvern

A wiry, self-confessed fitness fanatic, he unwinds by going for a run. Despite reaping great rewards from his shares in Goldman Sachs, he still likes to walk around London and is one of very few multi-millionaires currently using the Underground. 

'I go to work on the Tube every day. I like to be in complete control of how long something's going to take. So walking is the best way and public transport is number two.'

He will have the mandatory face covering when he boards the Tube next week but is adamant it will not be a hospital mask. 

'A neighbour made me a nice face scarf,' he says, 'but I won't be using valuable PPE. And nor should anyone.'

At the age of 64 does he not fear catching the dreaded bug? 

'I think I had Covid very early on,' he says brightly. 'I was actually in Tokyo in February. I think I got it there, not that I've had any tests.' 

Is he not tempted to have an antibody test? 

'Not really – unless that helps me get into the US. My granddaughter was born six weeks ago in New York and I still haven't seen her!'

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