Evidence provided by the most senior official at the Department of Health and Social Care on the procurement of personal protective equipment during the Coronavirus pandemic appears to contradict previous claims by both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
Last November, in response to Labour Leader Keir Starmer during Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson said that “99.5% of the 32 billion items of personal protective equipment that this country secured conformed entirely to our clinical needs, once we had checked it”. Starmer had questioned Johnson over the procurement of PPE, which the Prime Minister lambasted as “pathetic”.
Similarly, in April, Gove told the Commons that “it is a well attested fact that less than 0.5% of PPE procured did not meet the standards that we had set out”.
However, in his evidence yesterday, DHSC permanent secretary Sir Chris Wormald told the Public Accounts Committee that one in 10 [10%] of all PPE in storage was not of high enough quality for use in a clinical setting – amounting to 2.9 billion items of PPE, costing £1.5 billion.
230 million PPE items have no use in any setting, it has been judged, and will be disposed of
The cost to the taxpayer of PPE ordered is £32 billion – including the current costs of storing equipment for £6 million a week (a decrease from the £10 million a week storage costs last year).
A report by the Public Accounts Committee in February found that PPE shortages left health and social care workers risking their lives. Surveys by staff representative organisations found that 30% of participating care workers, doctors and nurses reported having insufficient PPE, the committee said. This included workers in high-risk settings.
“Many workers at the frontline in health and social care were put in the appalling situation of having to care for people with COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 without sufficient PPE to protect themselves from infection,” it said.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said that “frontline workers were left without adequate supplies, risking their own and their families’ lives”.