A CENTRE which has distributed millions of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid test kits has been praised for its work helping the vulnerable.

The PPE Cell in Chilton started "from nothing" and grew to distribute eight million items across County Durham and Darlington.

It received an average of 672 orders and distributed up to 347,000 items per month, shifting stock worth millions of pounds from the Chilton hub.

It supported more than 200 care homes and carer clients with a seven-day rolling supply of PPE providing over four million items to the adult and social care sector.

And it is still dealing with an "astronomical" demand in lateral flow test (LTF) kits in recent weeks.

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"Two years in and some fantastic work," said Kevin Lough,  Durham County Council's occupational health and safety manager.

He told the council's health and wellbeing board of the growth and success of the cell.

He said: "It's nearly two years to the day since I was set a challenge where I was informed there would be a lot of PPE coming the council's way.

"I visited Chilton Depot, asked some people to move some snow ploughs and gritters, and the rest is history.

"This was really important work and it still is. There is an absolute need for personal protective equipment, particularly in health, social care and other high-risk environments.

"There have been many stars of this show.

"Some of the volumes we've produced and delivered to people across County Durham and Darlington are absolutely astronomical."

The Northern Echo: Kevin Lough, Durham County Council's occupational health and safety manager. Picture: Northern Echo.Kevin Lough, Durham County Council's occupational health and safety manager. Picture: Northern Echo.

He said lateral flow tests were most in demand at the moment, reaching "really astronomical" levels.

"We've just achieved more than a million. Those numbers are amazing."

He added the operation could be a "logistical nightmare", with some PPE unused because of expiry dates.

"Currently we're maintaining a three-month supply. We don't know what the world's going to look like after April, what the winter challenges will be.

"Our rates are high at the moment, so we've got to have some contingencies. We can't just pull this operation and close it down.

"We've still got to run this on the premise that someone somewhere at some time will need some support."

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The cell is still supporting care homes as a backup or "plan B", alongside a Government portal to order PPE.

He added they had contigency stockpiles for future needs as they managed down stock levels, while waiting for guidance from Government.

He said: "It's not at the scale it was. But it's absolutely still required.

"There's still a lot of work to do. It's still a really important area."

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He said Paul Lawrence, the cell's operation manager, had been "absolutely amazing... probably at times single-handedly ensuring that some of our most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable workplaces have been continually provided with PPE throughout the last two years".

Mr Lawrence spoke of the "extraordinary" LFT demands.

"We were averaging 75 to 80 orders per week prior to the start of March.

"Since the start of March we're averaging 200 to 270 orders per week for lateral flow tests throughout the region.

"So far we've hit them all as well."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Paul Sexton. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Paul Sexton. Picture: Durham County Council.

Councillor Paul Sexton said: "I did visit the PPE cell and I was very impressed at all the hard work that the team had done.

"They effectively started this all from nothing.

"It wasn't the most ideal place but you made the best of it and it's a finely oiled machine now."