The Government is planning to burn PPE to ‘generate power’, after being left with £4bn worth of unusable items bought in the first year of the Covid pandemic, MPs have revealed.
A damning report the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) ‘lost’ billions of the money it spent on PPE during 2020.
The report said: ‘The DHSC lost 75% of the £12bn it spent on PPE in the first year of the pandemic to inflated prices and kit that did not meet requirements – including fully £4bn of PPE that will not be used in the NHS and needs to be disposed of.’
According to the PAC, the DHSC has ‘no clear disposal strategy for this excess’ but ‘plans to burn significant volumes of it to generate power’.
The cross-party group of MPs, which holds Government’s spending to account, said it has ‘concerns about the cost-effectiveness and environmental impact of this “strategy”’.
The DHSC also bought 817 million items of PPE – totalling £673m – which are defective and so cannot be used, donated or sold – including counterfeit masks and non-water repellent gowns.
The findings, released today (10 June) blame the DHSC’s ‘haphazard purchasing strategy’ for 24% of the PPE contracts awarded now being in dispute. These include for products rendered unfit for purpose, and one for 3.5bn gloves with allegations of modern slavery against the manufacturer.
The PAC said findings exacerbate the DHSC’s ‘track record of failing to comply with the requirements of managing public money even before the further exceptional challenges of the pandemic response’.
It also cited concerns about ‘inappropriate unauthorised payoffs made to staff by health bodies’, with the planned large-scale NHS restructuring ‘increasing the risk’ of a repeat.
Pandemic PPE procurement ‘overwhelmed existing systems’ and ‘exposed weaknesses’ in the DHSC’s commercial contracting capability, the report concluded.
Among a range of recommendations, the PAC said the DHSC should write to set out full details of its disposal plans, providing quarterly updates on top of those required for the ‘Initial lessons from the Government’s response to the Covid pandemic’ report.
The DHSC must also publish its ‘commercial reset’ plan and timeline, keeping the PAC up-to-date on various subsequent successes and failures in reclaiming money used on below-par PPE or recovering money paid to suppliers where goods were not received.
PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier said: ‘The story of PPE purchasing is perhaps the most shameful episode the UK Government response to the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic health service and social care staff were left to risk their own and their families’ lives due to the lack of basic PPE.
‘In a desperate bid to catch up the Government splurged huge amounts of money, paying obscenely inflated prices and payments to middlemen in a chaotic rush during which they chucked out even the most cursory due diligence.
‘This has left us with massive public contracts now under investigation by the National Crime Agency or in dispute because of allegations of modern slavery in the supply chain.’
Commenting on the findings, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘This absolutely damning report exposes the shameful and toxic waste of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. Ministers have been carelessly burning taxpayers’ money by the billion as unusable gowns, goggles, and gloves literally go up in flames.
‘On protective equipment they got the big calls hopelessly wrong as ministers lined the pockets of their cronies with public money using their illegal VIP fast lane while failing key workers on the frontline. It is outright incompetence and downright sleaze.
‘The Covid public inquiry must be free of the Prime Minister’s interference so it can get to the bottom of this scandal. Ministers must face the full consequences of their wasteful negligence and unforgivable corruption.’
Pulse’s thorough coverage of inadequate PPE provision during the pandemic included how GPs received previously-used gloves in its first year, as well as how GPs were still having to buy their own protection as late as December 2021.
Earlier pandemic findings from the PAC included concluding that their was no evidence that the NHS Test and Trace programme brought down Covid infection levels despite having an expenditure of £37bn.
And last month it predicted that even if the NHS meets its targets for clearing the post-Covid elective care backlog, another million patients will be on the waiting list – posing a ‘huge risk’ to GPs.