United Kingdom

UK's health chiefs hail £11m PPE crusade as healthcare workers say charity drive helped save lives 

The Mail Force charity, which rode to the rescue at the height of the coronavirus crisis, was hailed by care homes and the boss of the NHS last night.

Health Service chief Sir Simon Stevens praised the ‘remarkable charity mission’ to source personal protective equipment for the UK.

And Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s department said it was ‘very grateful to the Mail and their readers’ for efforts in support of the charity.

The tributes came after a BBC report suggested some Mail Force masks had been produced by a Chinese firm allegedly implicated in a controversial forced labour scheme relating to Uighur Muslims.

The Chinese government has been forcing the oppressed minority to work in factories against their will.

However, the claims only emerged months after Mail Force bought a small batch of masks from Medwell Medical Products.

There is no direct evidence that any Mail Force masks – which were all pre-approved by the NHS – were made by Uighurs.

The masks in question represent 0.2 per cent of the 42million items of PPE the charity delivered to the UK. Last night, care homes and NHS chiefs queued up to pay tribute to Mail Force.

In the spring, it was widely celebrated as a force for good during a desperate struggle for survival as the Covid crisis battered the nation.

From a standing start, the charity – set up by the Daily Mail and its partners – delivered PPE direct to the NHS and care sector front lines.

It raised an incredible £11.7million from readers and philanthropists – and sent delivery vans and lorries across the nation laden with masks, aprons, coveralls and visors.

The war-like effort was saluted this week by Boris Johnson as an incredible testament ‘to what we can achieve when we pull together to fight a common foe’.

Last night Sir Simon said: ‘The Mail Force campaign was a remarkable charity mission that helped provide much-needed PPE for frontline health and care staff.

‘We in the NHS are hugely grateful to the charity and the Daily Mail for providing this very practical expression of support at a time when countries right around the world were having to go to great lengths to find supplies of this vital kit.’

Pictured: Sir Simon Stevens, CEO of the NHS, said Mail Force campaign was remarkable charity mission that helped provide much-needed PPE for frontline health and care staff

Now in its final stages, Mail Force is on track to donate more than 42.3million items of PPE.

The masks involved in the BBC’s story were purchased by Mail Force from a supplier in China that bought them from Medwell Medical Products.

Its masks were already being imported in large quantities by the US, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany.

In April, when Mail Force purchased 34 boxes of the masks, totalling 102,000 items, the Chinese firm said it had sold 20million masks.

The Medwell masks had been approved for use in the EU and approved by Department of Health officials before Mail Force placed its one and only order.

Three months later, in July, it was revealed by the New York Times that Medwell was one of 17 Chinese companies suspected of using forced labour among the Uighurs.

Yesterday the BBC’s website was forced to change a headline which initially claimed the masks came from a ‘Uighur factory’.

It inserted the words ‘linked to’ – to reflect the fact the claims were unsubstantiated.

Yesterday Natalie Gustar, boss of Cherry Trees and Cherry Blossom care homes on the Isle of Wight, recalled how Mail Force provided vital help.

Department of Health has said the Government is very grateful to the Mail and their readers for the charitable efforts to assist in providing PPE. Pictured: Health secretary Matt Hancock

She said: ‘We were really, really strapped and the Government were changing the guidelines left, right and centre.

'We couldn’t get hold of fluid-repellent masks anywhere and you delivered us some, so it enabled us to give better quality care to residents because we weren’t as nervous being in such close proximity knowing we had the correct PPE.’

Raj Sehgal, managing director of Armscare, which operates four homes in Norfolk, said: ‘We were very short of PPE and it got us through a period when we really needed it.

'It was tremendous. It was all very well put together by Mail Force and a tremendous effort by everyone who donated to the appeal, so I’m very grateful.’

A spokesman for the Department of Health added: ‘These masks were donated through an intermediary and only represent a tiny proportion of the overall PPE supplied. The masks have been removed entirely from the distribution chain.

‘We are very grateful to the Mail and their readers for their charitable efforts to assist in providing PPE to our frontline staff through this unprecedented global pandemic.’

A Mail Force spokesman said of the PPE supplies: ‘Every batch was approved by Department of Health inspectors prior to being bought and prior to delivery.

‘Despite this, we became aware in November that part of one consignment of PPE may have originated in one factory in China, where it has since been suggested that forced labour has been used.

'We were unaware of any such allegations at the time of procuring the items. The masks in question represent 0.2 per cent of the 42million items of PPE we delivered to the UK.

‘We are implacably opposed to forced labour of any kind.’

The BBC is being investigated by an independent inquiry over claims that Martin Bashir used forged bank statements to secure an interview with Princess Diana in 1995.

'You got us through the dark days...you saved lives'

While millions of masks and aprons have been delivered to the NHS, behind the scenes Mail Force has also been handing donations of PPE to small care homes and hospices.

These are often overlooked by the system, but their need has been just as desperate.

Although that phase of Mail Force has now come to an end, these are the heartrending and uplifting stories – from the forgotten homes that lost residents in the darkest days of the Covid crisis, to dedicated staff who never went back to their own houses in order to keep residents safe.

Park Mount

Pictured: Sister Mary McNulty at Park mount care home receiving a Mail force delivery

The Mail Force delivery of gloves, face masks and aprons in June ‘saved us’, staff and residents declared.

The care home, in Macclesfield, Cheshire, is owned by the Pallottine Missionary Sisters.

The 60 dedicated staff and four nuns provide round-the-clock care for 42 residents with dementia.

Manager Allyson Attward said: ‘At the time it was very difficult to get hold of PPE, we were really struggling. As a charity we don’t have a large amount of income, we rely on donations, especially at a time of crisis.

‘It was massive for us to receive the gloves, masks and aprons from Mail Force. Without them we wouldn’t be able to carry on caring for people.’

Mother Superior Sister Mary McNulty, 72, added: ‘We are very grateful.’

 Care for Veterans

Head of fundraising James Bacharew said: ‘We really did appreciate all the help we received from Mail Force. Before they came, PPE was very difficult for us to get hold of. It was very expensive and not very good quality.’

The cost and access to effective PPE was a ‘constant worry’ for staff at the Care Home for Veterans in Worthing, West Sussex.

Mr Bacharew said: ‘When Mail Force arrived it meant we could inject our funds into core services. The PPE was much appreciated by workers and staff. It couldn’t have come at a better time.’

Rosewood Villa

This family-run care home held a very early Christmas party in the middle of May as part of its morale-boosting activities.

Residents in Newcastle upon Tyne dressed in their festive jumpers and sat down to a roast dinner with all the trimmings after the care home received a turkey.

Administrator Jacqueline Watson said: ‘We have just been trying to keep life as positive for the residents as we can.

‘The Mail Force PPE that we got was very much appreciated and helped us at a time that we were worried that if we had an outbreak of Covid we would not have been able to get through it.’

Marple Lodge

Selfless carers did not go home for more than two months to help keep safe their 17 residents aged from 60 to 96.

The home in Greater Manchester went into almost complete lockdown at the height of the crisis, barring deliveries and the occasional visit by medical staff.

Mail Force delivered a consignment of protective gowns and face masks. Manager Tracey Mairs said last night: ‘I’d just like to thank everyone who made donations for the PPE.

‘It came in really handy because there was a shortage at the time and we were really grateful.’

Dudbrook Hall

Pictured: Care home manager Sean Watson with his hard working staff at Dudbrook Hall Care home in Brentwood, Essex, gratefully receiving their new PPE thanks to Mail Force campaign

Four elderly residents died at the home in Brentwood, Essex, during the first wave and staff were left with ‘dangerously low’ levels of PPE.

But the equipment provided through Mail Force got everyone through ‘the dark days’, said director Sean Watson.

‘It helped save lives,’ he added. ‘We’ve found that some members of staff have tested positive for the virus with antibody testing – but we weren’t offered testing at the time.

‘Without everyone wearing PPE those members of staff who didn’t show any symptoms of Covid may have infected more residents, so it was a life-saver.’

Cumberland Lodge

Masks were like ‘gold dust’ when Mail Force arrived with supplies for the facility, which looks after adults with mental health problems in Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

Support worker Nicole Mitchell said: ‘It was a massive help as wearing masks became compulsory – and those boxes kept us ticking over for quite a while.’

She said it also provided a vital lift to residents’ spirits, adding: ‘We were also able to use it to get residents out and about and get them down to the shops.’

Greenways

Care home manager Claire Callender was getting so short of PPE she was contemplating having to use a decorating overall in lieu of a coverall or gown.

She told of her relief as Mail Force came to the rescue at Greenways, a small independently-run care home with 17 residents in Long Itchington, Warwickshire.

Mrs Callender said: ‘We were really struggling at the time with PPE, which was why – when Mail Force got in touch – we were extremely grateful. That has been the backbone of our support and we are still using bits of it now.’

Danetre Practice

The surgery had been largely relying on donations of PPE from local businesses – until Mail Force arrived. In May, the medical practice in Daventry, Northamptonshire, took delivery of 1,500 aprons, 500 masks and 176 gowns sourced from Turkey.

Dr Amy Butler, a GP partner, said: ‘We were really grateful for the equipment given to us by Mail Force – particularly the gowns, as we were really struggling for adequate supplies at the time.

‘The gowns proved really important and allowed us to safely carry out examinations or procedures such as leg dressings. The donation came at a good time. We had been given a small amount of gloves and aprons at the start of the pandemic, but they didn’t last long.’

Cherry Trees and Cherry Blossom

Mail Force PPE Delivery to Cherry Trees Care Home, Isle of Wight. (Left to right: Sharon Holliman, Tetty Lia Gane, Marnni Beennchley, Cherry Trees Manager Leah Linington, Anna Plaga (sitting), Michael Ayres, Keily Newnnham, Diana Chang (sitting)

Up to half of the staff at these care homes were isolating with symptoms at the height of the crisis. PPE – especially masks – was ‘impossible’ to come by as prices had rocketed due to shortages.

Mail Force supplied 2,000 masks, 1,400 aprons and more than 300 gowns to the homes in Cowes on the Isle of Wight at the end of May.

Last night, managing director Natalie Gustar gave an enormous ‘thank you’.

She said: ‘We were really, really strapped and the Government were changing the guidelines left, right and centre.

‘We couldn’t get hold of fluid-repellent masks and you delivered us some, so it enabled us to give better quality care to residents because we weren’t as nervous being in such close proximity knowing we had the correct PPE.’

She added: ‘Obviously being on the Isle of Wight, couriers weren’t coming over with things. It was absolutely dire. Thank you very much to everyone at the paper and all who donated money and allowed this to happen.’

Redclyffe and Tasker House

Jacky Valentine has spent the past 11 years working to put a smile on her residents’ faces as activity co-ordinator at Redclyffe Residential Home for the elderly in Rushden, Northamptonshire.

But the dedicated key worker was almost moved to tears when Mail Force arrived with boxes of sought-after PPE to help keep both staff and residents safe.

The PPE donated by Mail Force was also shared with its sister home in nearby Wellingborough, Tasker House.

Last night Theresa Murphy, supervisor at Tasker House, said she was ‘very grateful’ to Daily Mail readers for their support.

Five Rise

Even the most modern care homes were pushed to the brink.

The nursing home in Bingley, West Yorkshire, is a £6million state-of-the-art facility with a replica 1950s high street to help dementia residents ‘living in the past’.

Managers were paying ten times the usual price for face masks and director Damien Holt said he would be forever grateful for the Mail Force consignment of 2,000 masks and five boxes of coveralls.

He said: ‘It made a massive difference. We really appreciate what the Mail Force charity did.’

Moat House

Delivery of the Mail Force PPE equipment to the Moat House Care Home, Burbage, Leics. Pictured left to right: Tina Gibb, Cathy Bown, and Colleen McKay, Care Manager

Staff at Moat House Care Home received 1,000 aprons, 1,150 masks, one box of gowns and one box of coveralls from Mail Force.

The home in Burbage, Leicestershire, cares for 90 residents and the donation in June was vital in helping keep them all safe.

Marie Jamieson, a senior carer, said last night: ‘All PPE is very useful and so gratefully received. It makes us feel much safer, we were so thankful for the donation.’

Warped logic by the BBC in the face of a godsend

Commentary by Robert Hardman 

The most common phrase we heard in those early days was ‘godsend’. Hospitals, care homes and charities were desperate for whatever PPE they could get their hands on as the virus ran riot among the most vulnerable in our society.

So when Mail Force turned up, there were usually cheers – and tears.

Take Blind Veterans UK – a care home in Brighton. All the residents were confined to their rooms and the staff were down to their last three isolation gowns when the Mail Force van arrived on Saturday, May 2, bearing boxes of masks and coveralls.

Suddenly, it was all smiles. Not only could the staff go about their duties but the big party planned for VE Day was back on, too.

‘We’re extraordinarily grateful for the donation from Mail Force. It’s made us breathe a sigh of relief,’ said manager Lesley Garven.

Except, judging by some of the warped logic on social media last night – led by a sour item on the BBC website – we should not have bothered. We should have left Blind Veterans UK well alone.

Rather than helping countless healthcare staff in hundreds of care homes, charities and hospitals in the depths of this crisis, what we should really have done is say: ‘Hmmm, we’d better not buy any of this stuff. It says “Made in China”.’

We should have accepted the millions donated by our readers and waited for – well who knows what?

No matter that the only country with PPE supplies at this time was China – and no matter that the whole world was fighting for it. Apparently, we should have sat on our hands.

We should have known that, months later, a report would emerge that a tiny batch of our masks – 0.2 per cent of our PPE – might have come from a factory which would later be accused of using Uighur slave labour.

Despite the fact that these masks had been cleared for EU use by a medical inspectorate (we have the certificate); despite the fact that they were registered with the USA’s Food and Drug Administration; despite the fact that we submitted the paperwork and company details to the Government’s inspectors for checking against their own databases; despite written confirmation from the Department of Health’s own programme director for Covid-19 supplies on April 19 – ‘I can confirm that the products are suitable and we would welcome them as a contribution’ – we were all wrong it seems.

So what does this tell us – apart from the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished?

It tells us what we already knew: that doing any business with China involves a degree of risk – and not just a security risk but an ethical risk.

China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority is a monstrous human rights scandal. This newspaper has said so time and again.

It goes far beyond religious discrimination. It involves documented cases of forced sterilisation, slave labour, concentration camps and even organ harvesting.

In short, it amounts to genocide. Yet a globalised world has allowed itself to become dependent on China for so much of its day-to-day needs – including PPE.

Few have been more vocal on this subject than the crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool – a tireless campaigner on behalf of the Uighur.

Next week, he and a cross-party group of peers and MPs will propose an amendment to the Trade Bill which would allow the High Court to annul any trade deal with a state which – in the view of the court – is complicit in genocide.

Lord Alton has said the Mail should be commended for the Mail Force campaign

As things stand, the British Government allows that to be determined via the United Nations. But since China has a UN veto, it simply sweeps any such pesky human rights charges under the carpet.

Retailers, of course, are often criticised for sourcing fashion goods made by slave or child labour. In normal circumstances, there is no excuse. But the mayhem of a global pandemic is the most abnormal of circumstances.

It behoves everyone to do their due diligence – as Mail Force most certainly did – but you can only do so much.

Long before any doubts about this small batch of PPE had surfaced, Mail Force had applied full anti-slavery requirements in its contracts.

In April, it boiled down to a very simple ethical dilemma: do you buy PPE or not? We have no doubt that we were doing the right thing.

So too does Lord Alton. ‘What Mail Force did was a good deed in a nasty world and you are to be commended,’ he tells me.

‘If the BBC are turning this into some woke campaign, that’s outrageous.’

What else can we do? Well, we can try to wean Britain off its lamentable dependence on imported PPE as Mail Force has done by helping kickstart new production lines in the UK. When that is not enough, we must be as diligent as we can.

Mail Force was a bold undertaking. It was never going to be easy. There would be glitches. We have reported them and will continue to do so.

But it has been, above all else, a magnificent team effort by tens of thousands for the benefit of many more. That will be the enduring memory.

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