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Auditor-General issues PPE warning to SA Health

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South Australia risks a shortage of personal protective equipment as COVID-19 restrictions lift and new Omicron variants spread due to gaps in SA Health’s handling of the state’s stockpiles, the Auditor-General has found.

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In a report handed down in January and tabled in parliament this week, Auditor-General Andrew Richardson revealed parts of SA Health’s management of the state’s personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies “are not operating effectively”, increasing the risk of inadequate supply.

He wrote that SA Health had established “some sound planning, governance and distribution practices for PPE”, but its role in supplying equipment to the state was unclear and there were gaps in its method for forecasting demand.

“This increases the risk that appropriate PPE supplies may not be readily available where and when needed as COVID‐19 pandemic restrictions are progressively lifted, new COVID‐19 variants such as the Omicron variant emerge and in any future health emergencies,” Richardson wrote.

But SA Health says it is confident that it has “ample” PPE supply, with several contractual arrangements in place with suppliers to secure the state’s stockpile.

The Auditor-General analysed SA Health’s management of PPE supplies – including surgical masks, respirators, gloves, gowns and face shields – last year before the state opened its borders to interstate travellers.

Richardson wrote that by the end of November, SA Health was “generally meeting its targeted stock levels of a minimum of six to 12 months’ worth of supply”, but for surgical masks, the department “relied on just in time supply arrangements” and was revising its target stock levels.

He wrote that nurse unit managers were concerned about hospitals potentially running out of PPE and local health networks (LHNs) had started their own stockpiles.

“Several LHNs maintain secondary local stores of PPE and in some cases source their own PPE, as they are concerned that they may not be able to readily access all the PPE supplies they need from the SA Health distribution centre if demand surges,” Richardson wrote.

“LHNs are also not receiving sufficient information about PPE items that are in low supply or unavailable.”

Richardson concluded:

However, Richardson praised SA Health for working with Adelaide-based mask manufacturing company Detmold to secure a local supply chain, developing reports and dashboards for monitoring PPE stock, hiring a consultant to review its supply chain and updating its PPE policies.

He made several recommendations to SA Health to improve its stock management, including updating its demand forecasting methodology, increasing reporting, clarifying its role in supplying PPE and reviewing its stock levels.

The recommendations were sent to SA Health in a letter in November.

In response, then SA Health chief executive Dr Chris McGowan told Richardson in January that the recommendations had “generally been accepted”.

SA Health told InDaily in a statement this week that it was “progressing well” with implementing the recommendations and expected to finalise the work by June.

“We are confident that relevant PPE equipment is available where and when it is needed, with ample supplies currently in stock and contractual arrangements in place with a number of key PPE suppliers,” the spokesperson said.

It comes as South Australia today reported 2874 new COVID-19 cases – a significant drop from the 3894 infections reported yesterday.

However, the number of infectious hospital patients went up from 218 yesterday, to 221 today.

Of those currently in hospital, 10 are in intensive care, but no one is on a ventilator.

A woman in her 80s died after testing COVID-positive.

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