My Lords, health and the economy are interdependent. Essential to infection control is PPE, which we import at eye-watering cost. Gowns are the second-most-used piece of PPE, after gloves, in healthcare. Of the £6.6 billion in pandemic costs to health and social care, £4 billion has been allocated for PPE to the end of July 2020. Wales alone has spent £136 million on 90 million items of PPE to date. The UK is using 10% of the total global production of PPE, and that will not decrease. In March, the WHO warned that 89 million medical masks, 76 million examination gloves and 1.6 million pairs of goggles would be required worldwide monthly.
Until 2020, the race to the bottom on price made Hubei province in China the manufacturing centre of PPE, yet in January, China imported 20 million surgical masks and respirators in 24 hours. Exports fell and international scrambles for PPE resulted. Here, our 2008 flu preparedness stockpile contained no gowns or visors. Apparently, almost two-thirds—21 million—of vital FFP3-standard masks were missing.
We must become resilient in our core needs. Our university fabric research can develop fibres and design quality gowns with low micro-organism transmission potential that are recyclable and fit women properly. Our universities teach and develop 3D printing, yet we do not have the infrastructure and experience for visor manufacture and distribution at scale. We rely on China’s manufacture of melt-blown and spun-bond polypropylene, and other crucial components of PPE, yet these supply chains are remarkably brittle, and the worldwide market for personal protective equipment is expected to grow at over 6% in the next five years. Will our economic recovery and security involve moves towards self-sufficiency in high-quality reusable medical consumables, their sterilisation and quality control? It must.