A centralised PPE sourcing unit has purchased 32bn items © Getty Images
A centralised PPE sourcing unit has purchased 32bn items © Getty Images

What PPE procurement lessons has Whitehall learned?

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
28 September 2020

The UK government is considering how tendering principles will need to adapt in light of lessons from the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.

As it announced that four months of PPE stock would be in place by November 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said resilience and short lead times, along with environmental standards and ethical labour practices, were considerations.

“We will consider how our tendering principles and criteria will need to adapt to deliver our overall approach to resilience, ensuring that the experience and learning gained from the crisis procurement processes are applied in the future, for example short lead times for delivery,” said a DHSC report on its new PPE strategy.

The report said a cross-government PPE sourcing unit, with over 400 people, was set up to “secure new supply lines from across the world” and 32bn items had now been purchased.

Prior to the crisis, PPE procurement was decentralised across health and social care settings and trusts could source their own PPE or buy via NHS Supply Chain.

“Our centralised procurement approach ensures that value for money is secured through sound and legally compliant procurement processes,” said the report.

“We will provide Covid-19 related PPE in full until March 2021 at the earliest. A decision on the future procurement model will be made next year.”

In relation to the government’s easing of tendering requirements for emergency procurements, the report said: “Where urgency was such that direct contract awards needed to be made under permitted procurement law exemptions, we ensured that VfM [value for money] was obtained through robust negotiation and benchmarking.”

The DHSC said prior to the pandemic 1% of PPE was made in the UK but 70% of expected PPE demand would be met by UK manufacturers from December.

Lord Paul Deighton, who was asked by the government in May to lead a PPE taskforce, said: “We have brought together a team that unites our procurement expertise and have overhauled the distribution network to rely less on overseas imports and more on our excellent businesses at home to ensure there is a reliable supply over the years to come.”

The boss of the National Audit Office has said it is investigating the government's procurement of PPE.

In July the Public Accounts Committee said there were “fundamental flaws” in the government’s procurement of PPE and it “failed to stock up in advance” despite a pandemic being identified as the country’s “top non-malicious risk”.

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