Australia’s medical supply chain came under intense pressure during the early days of the COVID outbreak, despite relatively little spread of the disease in the community.

It wasn’t so much medicines but plastics, containers and some devices where the supply chain buckled, with the federal government using military aircraft to source materials around the world.

The revelations were made in a recent Which-50/SAP panel discussion in Sydney into sustainable business transformation.

According to Dr Greg Whitely, Chairman of medical supplier Whitely Corp, and a member of the government’s PPE task force, things started disappear of the shelf almost immediately — something consumers personally experienced every time they went the supermarket.

“We were at a breakfast meeting in the first week of February with the head of TGA Professor [John] Skerritt, who said to me and a number of other people looking at it, ‘When things go wrong, ring early don’t ring late.’ And at that stage, the virus was clearly transmitting via surfaces — we knew that it would survive. We now know really it’s an airborne virus primarily but everything went crazy.

“We negotiated the whole of the disinfection regime, Professor Skerritt and his team were fantastic. That went into place with now 150 products, nearly, with COVID claims.”

But companies involved in Australia’s medical supply chain also felt the pinch quickly. “We (the supply chain) ran out of bottles, we ran out of pumps, labelling. We then had the plastics issue starting to fall over, as supply chains throughout Southeast Asia and around the world started to fall down as the virus spread, and there were shutdowns and planned outages.”

Plastic bottles often require polyethylene to produce, but there was only one manufacturer  of polyethylene plastics in Australia.

Whitely said the government response at this point was very good. “It made the Air Force available. Unknown to most people, there were Hercules flying everywhere, picking up raw materials for all sorts of sectors, including pharmaceuticals. A lot of medicines were coming out of India and Some out of China.”

Others involved on the buy side of the medical supply chain also had their problems. An executive from one of the larger health groups Which-50 spoke to after the panel said analytics proved to be a real problem, and that it was hard to get a true reading on what was really happening.

Watch the panel here

 

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