The PPE gown shortage crisis may finally be getting sorted out, thanks to a partnership between the government and the UK laundry industry.   It will mean that all NHS and care home staff will hopefully have access to the protective gowns they need.  The idea is a simple one, which has been pushed by the Textile Service Association (TSA), the trade body representing the UK’s commercial laundries, for over two months.  Instead of using disposable gowns, healthcare workers, medics and care workers will switch to reusable ones – and UK laundries will clean them hygienically, ready for reuse.

It’s not rocket science: several NHS trusts already use reusable PPE gowns successfully.  And while the cost per gown is around ten times that of a disposable version, the reusable one can be laundered and reused between 75 and 100 times, so it will save the NHS huge amounts of money, estimated as up to £500million a year.  As many as half a million single use gowns are used every day during the COVID-19 crisis – and once used they are thrown away, creating millions of tonnes of clinical waste, which then has to be incinerated.

Laundering half a million reusable gowns a day is a massive operation and not any laundry can do the job, as they need to be hygienically sanitised.  Those laundries that already process NHS linen will be up to standard, but they are unlikely to be able to cope with the anticipated increased volumes.  That’s why the TSA has put together comprehensive guidelines and a certification process, so that other laundries can quickly take up the slack.

“The key for the laundry industry is to mobilise now to ensure we have the capacity and processes in place to service this enormous increase in demand,” says David Stevens, CEO of the TSA.  “Without laundries processing to the correct standard there is no point in having reusable gowns.”

The standard that is used within the NHS is HTM01-04, which guarantees the disinfection of the gown.  As well as complying with this, laundries involved in the service will have to be able to manage the collecting, cleaning and returning two to three million gowns a week to thousands of different locations.  However, according to Stevens that’s that not going to be a problem,  “We are used to processing 50 million pieces a week for the hotel sector, so we have plenty of capacity and expertise in providing the service required,” he says.  “We hope to encourage an additional 30 to 50 laundry sites to go through the certification process to ensure we are ready to support the project when the gowns start to arrive.”  

The TSA has been lobbying the government to change to this type of gown not only because is it a much more reliable and cost-effective solution, but also because it is much better for the environment.  Disposable gowns create enormous amounts of clinical waste, reusable ones can be recycled at the end of their working life. 

“We are delighted that the Government is now moving forward towards the implementation of reusable gowns and we know there are several million currently in manufacture,” says Stevens.  “The vision is to have the reusable gowns service available throughout the healthcare market so hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes and nursing homes all have access.”