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How PPE went from a stress to a strength

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE), along with toilet paper, became the must-have item for almost every Australian.

On average, NSLHD issues 20,500 masks per week, and since April has used 375,000 gowns and 11,000 litres of hand sanitiser

Demand was at the time outstripping supply, which was a problem. Enter Performance Support Team Lead Amanda Harriss and her team of PPE wranglers from across the district.

"There were a number of challenges to overcome but our objective was clear – to ensure all of our staff had access to appropriate PPE all of the time," Amanda said.

"When we started looking into it from an ‘all of district’ perspective it was apparent we had issues and risks that need addressing immediately.

"The incoming supply chain was so fragile we were only able to plan a day or two at a time."

One of the first actions undertaken by Amanda and her team was finding what we had and moving it into central stores where it could then be distributed to clinical teams based on their immediate needs.

"To get the central stores running as quickly as possible we needed to establish some simple and practical systems," she said.

"A stock control process was developed, recording all of the stock by item that we received as well as who, when and where the stock was sent.

"A ‘come and collect’ model was created which meant staff needed to fill in a form and come to a central store for collection. One of the downsides was the lack of convenience of stock needing to be collected, however one of the upsides was that people could come to the stores and see that we had stock – it helped with the anxiety that was being felt by many."

However, as they have throughout the pandemic, the community rallied – this time to help us ensure we had enough PPE on hand to beat the virus.

"The outpouring from the community was amazing – we had people contacting us daily wanting to donate PPE," Amanda said.

The outpouring from the community was amazing – we had people contacting us daily wanting to donate PPE.
Amanda Harriss, Performance Support Team Lead

"One of the early PPE shortages we experienced was hand sanitiser. We were unable to source sufficient quantities from our suppliers in the beginning, and every boutique gin distillery quickly switched to making hand sanitiser. I think most of them contacted us too."

The central stores model remains in operation, with a number of overflows stocked heartily to avoid any future shortages and Amanda said the team deserved an enormous amount of credit.

"The work that has been done and continues in managing PPE for NSLHD wouldn’t have been possible without the ‘team’ behind the scenes," she said.

"Our central stores teams are staff from all corners of our workforce and across all of our sites and facilities – we have dock managers, infection prevention and control specialists, directors of nursing, corporate managers, admin officers and nurses, operational managers and project officers, and of course our clinical products team.

"None of us would have been brought together as a group under normal circumstances but we have and I believe that we are all richer in experience for it.

"The trust that all of the NSLHD workforce placed in us as a team can’t be understated especially when things were quite tense. Having the support and understanding from staff made it all a little bit easier."

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