HEALTH Secretary Matt Hancock has vowed to “personally” investigate why two NHS trusts which operate in Cumbria failed to give front line staff adequately-tested respirator masks.

Mr Hancock gave the assurance after the News & Star highlighted how ambulance crews and hospital theatre nurses in the north of the county were exposed to avoidable risk after they were given respirators for which they had not been “fit-tested”.

All such PPE masks must be individually fitted to ensure they are sufficiently airtight to prevent infection.

Cumbrian ambulance crews and theatre nurses at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven worked for a number of weeks with untested masks, it has emerged.

More than 200 ambulance staff in the county may have been affected, and an

estimated 130 hospital theatre staff.

North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the two acute hospitals, apologised to the theatres staff involved, but said it had now corrected the problem.

North West Ambulance Service confirmed that it had introduced a respirator “fit-testing” programme in mid April, but the public sector workers’ union Unison is demanding an investigation.

At Tuesday afternoon's Downing Street briefing, the News & Star suggested the problem was “systemic” rather than linked to any issue with the masks, and asked the Health Secretary how he would ensure workers will never again be exposed to such a risk.

Mr Hancock said: “I know that there were some problems with that as well at the start. I hope we’ve resolved them now.

"It was all part of going from needing normal amounts of PPE to needing very high amounts of PPE. I will personally make sure the specific example you raise will be looked into.”

He promised to speak again to the News & Star once he had investigated so could provide a full answer.

The Government had now signed deals with more than 100 suppliers across the world to secure more PPE and ramped up domestic production.

Unison’s Mike Oliver welcomed the intervention.

“There needs to be an investigation,” said Mr Oliver.

“If masks are not fit-tested, staff can be exposed to airborn particles and infection. North West Ambulance Service was not properly prepared.

“Unison raised this in March 2019. Did they have an adequate system? The answer is clearly no.

"It’s important because staff are on the front line, risking their lives.”

The government has now contacted more than 350 potential UK manufacturers and contracts have been signed to manufacture more than 2bn items of PPE in the UK.