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Supply chain pressures are leading to a shortage of vital equipment, such as mobility and toileting aids, hoists and hospital beds, that help vulnerable people in Devon to live independently at home, Exeter City Council has warned.

This could leave many residents without essential products that enable to remain independent and contribute to their quality of life.

Continued high levels of coronavirus cases globally have been causing disruption to outbound supplies, especially from Asia where many independent living equipment items are manufactured and shipped from.

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The world’s third and fifth largest ports in China were under COVID-19 lockdowns in June and global economists predict that the continued constraints on key shipping routes – that are leading to delays of four to six weeks – will continue into 2022.

In addition, recent lockdowns and COVID-19 risks mean manufacturing factories are working on reduced capacity, increasing supplier lead-in times on many equipment lines, according to the local authority.

The combination of issues means that community equipment stocks in Devon stores are low on some items of independent living equipment, including four-wheeled walking frames and raised toilet seats, and Devon County Council and NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are acting early now to mitigate the risk of running out of stock.

“We deliberately built our stocks up last year, but conditions right now are very challenging,” said Glen Baxter, of Millbrook Healthcare, which provides community equipment to people on behalf of Devon County Council and NHS Devon CCG.

With no sign of the situation improving soon, Millbrook Healthcare, Devon County Council and NHS Devon CCG are calling an ‘equipment amnesty’, asking people who no longer need their community equipment to return it free of charge.

The authorities ran the amnesty for the first time last year, which resulted in hundreds of items being returned, refurbished, sterilised and put back into use in the community.

“We were delighted by the response last year,” Glen remarked. “Because we were able to put back into circulation items that were no longer being used, we were able to continue to provide the vital equipment that people needed in the timescales required. We want to do the same again now.”

Supply pressures are affecting the availability of four-wheeled walking frames and toileting equipment in particular to Devon. Other equipment used in high volumes includes hospital beds, clinical mattresses, pressure cushions and hoists.

Wheelchairs, however, are not part of the amnesty, because these are not provided by the community equipment service Millbrook delivers.

Collection of the equipment from people’s homes is free and Millbrook staff will collect the items from the property.

The amnesty will run from 9th-30th August. People should call 0330 124 8214 to arrange a collection.

Councillor James McInnes, Devon County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for adult social care and health, commented: “We were pleasantly surprised at the level of response we received to last year’s amnesty, with hundreds of items if not more collected from people’s homes across Devon.

“We’re hoping to achieve that again while we’re experiencing these problems in the supply chain, but there are also good environmental reasons too as to why we’re keen to re-use equipment where we can. If the equipment amnesty is successful, we’ll be considering whether to hold it regularly as a matter of routine.”

Millbrook Healthcare already operates a re-use service throughout the year, collecting items of higher value and equipment that people are able to leave at council-run household waste recycling centres for collection by Millbrook. What can be re-used is refurbished and put back into the system, and items that can’t because they don’t meet UK safety standards, are recycled or given to charity as overseas aid.

Millbrook Healthcare’s technology-enabled care service centre went live in Essex on 1st July, which includes the identification, deployment, installation, maintenance, decommissioning and removal of technology to meet service users’ care needs as well as supporting Essex County Council staff to develop a more innovative and technological mindset when commissioning care.

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