THE First Minister has launched an inquiry after The National revealed a UK Government body told a major firm supplying vital personal and protective equipment to frontline workers not to sell the kit to care homes in Scotland and Wales.

Last night, Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman also wrote to her UK counterpart Matt Hancock to demand answers after he cancelled a meeting due to take place between them yesterday.

And as the UK Government denied prioritising PPE supplies to English services, the BBC also reported that other key suppliers had been given the same advice by Public Health England (PHE) not to send kit to homes in Scotland and Wales.

One document the BBC highlighted listed three firms which it said had been given the same instructions by PHE.

The PPE suppliers mentioned were Deliver Net, Countrywide Healthcare and Blueleaf. Countywide Healthcare did not respond to The National’s inquires yesterday, while a spokesman for Deliver Net and Blueleaf could not be reached last night.

READ: Jeane Freeman writes to Matt Hancock over PPE firm row 'contradiction'

Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will investigate reports that “supplies of PPE to care homes in Scotland are being diverted to England”.

At a media briefing yesterday, the First Minister said if care homes supplies are affected, it would be “unacceptable” and increase pressure on the national stockpile, which would be “a source of real worry”.

Sturgeon said: “I hope nobody thinks this is in any way a point of a political nature. It is a point about fairness and co-operation as all of us deal with the challenge of this virus.

“All parts of the UK right now are facing supply challenges on PPE, indeed this is a global issue.

“Any situation where supplies were being diverted from one part of the UK to another without consultation or any sense of co-operation would clearly be unconscionable and unacceptable.”

The First Minister spoke out after The National told how PPE supplier Gompels said it could not send supplies to Scottish care homes or agencies providing carers to elderly people in their own homes on the advice of Public Health England.

It posted: “Gompels are helping the Covid-19 response by distributing this product on behalf of Public Health England to ensure that essential supplies get to care home and domiciliary care providers.

“As such, this product has a number of restrictions on who can purchase it.

“You must be registered and operating in England – apologies to Wales and Scotland, we are told you have different processes for getting emergency supplies.” Gompels repeated the message yesterday, underlining that the decision was taken following Public Health England criteria.

In her letter to Hancock, Freeman referred to the assurances Hancock had given, but said: “One of the companies concerned, Gompels, have stated clearly on their website that PHE restrictions on using this company are such that they cannot supply to domiciliary and care homes in Scotland and Wales.

“I’m sure you will see the contradiction and potential difficulty here. It may be the result of a misunderstanding by the company but I’d be most grateful if you could look into and resolve this matter so that this company, which is a supplier to care homes in Scotland, can continue to do so.”

In a statement, a UK Government spokesman said: “We have not instructed any company to prioritise PPE for any one nation. Our UK-wide strategy will ensure equipment continues to be evenly distributed across the entire nation.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak also denied the UK Government was prioritising PPE stock to care services in England, stating there was “no truth” in the reports.

The First Minister said she is exploring options to reduce lockdown restrictions gradually, such as allowing schools to reopen. She also announced plans to invest a further £1 million in mental health services on top of a previous £3.3m.

Sturgeon said the increase in funding will allow for the expansion of the use of distress brief interventions (DBIs) which allow adults in emotional distress to speak to mental health workers.

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