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NAO: 11% of Government-procured PPE ‘not suitable’ for frontline services

NAO: 11% of Government-procured PPE ‘not suitable’ for frontline services

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed that more than 10% of Covid PPE procured by the Government is ‘not suitable’ for frontline services.

Only around half (55%) of the 31.5 billion items received in the UK ‘have been distributed to health and social care settings following quality checks’, the report said today.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has ‘identified some 3.6 billion PPE items that it has concluded are not currently suitable for front-line services’, it said.

This is equivalent to 11% of all PPE it has received with the items purchased at a cost of £2.9 billion, it added.

However, the NAO report said this ‘compares with the Department’s planning assumption that 20% of PPE might not be suitable for front-line services’. 

In November 2020, a previous NAO report revealed a Government estimate that 195 million items of PPE it had procured were ‘potentially unsuitable’.

The new report revealed that 64% of all items assessed as unsuitable for front-line services were procured through new supply chains set up during the pandemic, while 53% of fast-tracked ‘priority lane’ suppliers provided unsuitable PPE.

It set out that PPE considered ‘not currently suitable’ for front-line services includes:

  • 1.1 billion items that cannot be used in health and social care settings, with an initial cost of £1.8 billion, but ‘may be suitable for use in other parts of the public sector’; 
  • 1.0 billion items that are wastage, purchased at an initial cost of £439 million. These items, equivalent to 3% of all stock that has been received and checked, cannot be used in any way.; and 
  • 1.4 billion items for other reasons such as incomplete paperwork or concerns about modern slavery, purchased at a cost of £646 million.

The DHSC has also estimated that it has ‘3.9 billion more PPE items than it needs’, representing around 10% of the PPE it purchased during the pandemic, the report said.

It is ‘trying to dispose of’ 305 million of these items through sales, 253 million items through donations to other parts of the public sector and 232 million items through ‘recycling’, it added.

The NAO said: ‘The Department has told us it is considering options to dispose of stock which cannot be used, sold or donated before its expiry date passes and is aiming for a zero-landfill target for disposal of PPE.’

The DHSC estimates it has 1.5 billion items of expired PPE, with an estimated cost of £619 million.

And of the 3.9 billion items of excess stock, the DHSC estimates that 51% have an expiry date that is ‘less than six months away’, the report added. 

Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts and MP Meg Hillier said the DHSC must ‘urgently get a grip of its PPE stocks’ and ‘get rid of unusable PPE’.

And deputy leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner MP added: ‘Unusable masks, gowns, goggles and gloves that our frontline key workers desperately needed during the pandemic are now literally going up in flames, along with billions of taxpayers’ cash spent on it.

‘Ministers have a duty to get value and results when spending the public’s money, but Boris Johnson has created a culture of cronyism and waste throughout his government.’

Pulse has approached the DHSC for comment.

Last month, the DHSC revealed that it was looking to extend the shelf-life of expired PPE amid losses of £8.7bn for PPE it bought last year.

It follows a litany of fiascos with official PPE provided to practices, including GPs being sent expired face masks, ‘used’ glovesgowns that did ‘not meet’ fluid resistance standards and aprons made from ‘repurposed bin bags’.