There were “fundamental flaws” in the UK government’s procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), according to MPs.
In a report on the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said a pandemic had been identified previously as the country’s “top non-malicious risk” but the government “failed to stock up in advance”.
The report said the Cabinet Office (CO) claimed it was “taken by surprise by the need for a huge quantity of PPE” and it emphasised it did not run out of PPE, though there were local shortages of PPE, particularly aprons.
“It matters very little that the government had enough PPE centrally if these vital goods and equipment are not getting to those who need them locally,” said the PAC.
The report said the unit cost paid by the government for PPE and medical equipment was “higher than it would have liked but it considers the purchase of this equipment value for money given the alternative of not having enough equipment”.
“However, it could have lessened the impact of this if it had stocked up on PPE sooner or had UK-based alternative supply options,” said MPs.
“It now plans to build up larger stocks of PPE for future shocks, including identifying manufacturers who can produce PPE quickly.”
The report said the CO reported a four-fold increase in demand for PPE across 58,000 sites in the health and social care sector and its central buying operation alone bought 1.7bn PPE items.
The first case of coronavirus was confirmed in England on 31 January while the government published its national PPE plan on 10 April, the report said. In April the Treasury committed £4bn of funding for PPE until the end of July.
The PAC reiterated a demand that the CO review lessons learned from the government’s procurement of PPE and update the committee by September.
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