NL acquisition, production of masks happened too slowly

Hospitals, sector organizations and manufacturers are critical of how long it took the Ministry of Public Health and the national consortium of medical supplies LCH to start buying and producing medical masks. Bed manufacturer Auping and filter manufacturer Afpro announced Thursday that the first of their millions of masks will be ready by end April. But according to those involved, this could have started much earlier, NRC reports.

Manufacturers were ready to start producing masks two weeks ago, but Minister Martin van Rijn for Medical Care only gave the go-ahead on Wednesday, according to the newspaper. “Those were precious weeks. We could have started much earlier, for example with making agreements with raw material suppliers,” Afpro director Joost Verlaan said to NRC. “Now the Netherlands is hobbling at the back because every country wants those raw materials.”

The Ministry established national purchasing center LCH last month to help solve shortages of protective gear. But there is too much bureaucracy and decisions are made too slowly, people involved told the newspaper. “Everything is calculated first. How much does it cost? Can we get it for our price? At many factories you now just pay at the gate, otherwise it’s gone,” a person involved around the Ministry said.

Healthcare institutions are therefore going around the LCH to order supplies themselves. Bart Berden, president of the Noord-Brabant regional acute care network ROAZ, and Eric Kroon of the board of directors of Deventer Hospital, both called the LCH a “good idea” but too difficult to coordinate. “All kinds of intermediaries slow down the work. That is frustrating. Then I hear [Public Health] Minister De Jonge say that it is difficult to get enough resources, while they were waiting for over 10 days to find a Dutch manufacturer. That could have and should have been much faster.” Kroon said

In a response to NRC, the Ministry of Public Health said that it received “hundreds of offers” which were “carefully checked” for “quality, quantity, availability and location”. “These offers also include starting up production lines within the Netherlands.” The Ministry “initially focused on regular supplies from regular suppliers and shipments within the EU” and then looked at options outside Europe.