WHEN I was being trained for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare, we called it IPE (individual protection equipment) but, for the avoidance of confusion I’ll use the new name, PPE.

A most important principle taught us at Sandhurst, was that - having given the order to suit-up, the commander should be looking for every opportunity to order its removal: prolonged use of PPE degrades your mental and physical capabilities, it reduces the ability to communicate and is psychologically disorienting.

That principle seemed to have been lost somewhere when I returned to regimental training: I recall spending the best part of a week fully suited-up in Kielder Forest, it was pure misery (though it did afford protection from midges). I remember following the soldier in front of me in the blackest of nights for miles, only to discover that he was actually a smudge on my lens, and that I was completely alone.

The only time I expected to use the kit and the drills for real, in Iraq in 2003, I ended up not using them at all.

The NHS is getting through 60 million visors per week. I did suggest to Matt Hancock at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak that, given there is no immediate danger of a chemical/nuclear/biological attack, he should commandeer all the military S10 respirators and allocate them to NHS staff. These do not need replacement, all you have to do is change the cannister (if I recall the drill correctly, you change it: when damaged, if immersed in water, when ordered to do so, or after 40 hours of continual use – but 20 in a forced-air environment. Amazing how it all sticks in the memory).

Anyway, Hancock turned down my suggestion. I concede that the appearance of the S10 respirator might well ‘spook’ the patients. So, congratulations to Southampton University and Hospital for designing and manufacturing a much more user-friendly PPE respirator from scratch to full production and use, in a matter of days.

I get quite a few emails from the ’outraged’ of the New Forest, who from their armchairs tell me how they would have so much better managed the distribution of PPE.

In a matter of days the NHS has had to move from supplying PPE to just 233 hospital trusts, to the current 58,000 separate healthcare settings.

The term ‘PPE’ covers a large number of different items, several with quite different supply chains. And all this at a time of unprecedented international demand.

Mercifully we have military assistance. The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter commented this week that ‘this is the greatest logistic challenge’ in his forty-year military career (armchair generals: take note).

A big thank you to those local firms that have turned to manufacturing PPE, supplying it at cost, and even free of charge to the NHS.

Elsewhere there have been complaints that manufacturers have failed to elicit responses from their offers and consequently their output is being exported.

We are actively engaging with more than 1,000 UK companies, but there has to be due diligence that products meet exacting standards. Spain is an object lesson: where PPE was acquired but turned out to be defective, leading to the quarantining of health workers who used it. There are already plenty of scams operating.

There are complaints that we failed to participate in EU procurement initiatives early on, but those initiatives have, thus far, failed to deliver a single item to any of their participants.

And into this fog-of-war a teacher emails me to demand to be issued with PPE to protect himself from the possibility of being infected by pupils. Well, what about some for the pupils to protect themselves from him?

If this goes any further we’ll all end up wearing space suits.